By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Despite a large amount of organized opposition to legislation that would direct more money away from public schools, none of four state lawmakers suggested they will vote against the proposed policies.
Education funding was one of the top issues discussed Friday during a Third House legislative update hosted online by the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce.
Those participating included Republican State Sens. Ryan Mishler and Blake Doriot and State Reps Curt Nisly and Craig Snow.
Four school districts and numerous community leaders voiced concern over the proposed shift in a meeting earlier this week in Warsaw. They expressed opposition to bills that seek to expand Indiana School Choice Scholarships and create a new Education Savings Account program that would give money directly to families regardless of which school their student attends.
The bill that’s drawn the most attention is HB 1005, which moved through the House and is now under consideration in the Senate. Snow and Nisly both voted for it.
House Republicans proposed to bring $378 million in new K-12 spending, but direct nearly $144 million of that funding to private education.
Mishler said the way schools would lose money in a voucher program is if students leave public schools.
To say it’s taking away from public schools “is a stretch,” Mishler said.
“Does it take away from public schools? Not as a whole. But it could take away from individual public schools.”
Nisly offered a quick assessment of the state of public schools.
“If schools don’t want competition from charters, they should just make sure they’re providing educational opportunities,” Nisly said.
Another topic addressed by some of the lawmakers was an attempt to reduce the amount of control the governor has during emergency declarations, including the existing one in Indiana over COVID-19.
HB 1123 includes numerous provisions including an additional role of the General Assembly when an emergency declaration is declared and more control on how some emergency money is spent.
The bill passed the House and is now under consideration by the Senate.
Nisly has been outspoken in his opposition to the current health emergency.
“It’s been over a year now,” Nisley said. “The legislature does have the ability to terminate the state of emergency, and I’m sure hoping we can do that before the end of the session.”
In other matters, Doriot said efforts to change funding for county highway departments appear to be dead.
Highway departments have historically spent 30% of the revenue for restricted uses and 70% for unrestricted uses. That was altered a few years ago and now is now restrictive in how the money can be used.
County officials claim the new restrictions have created an excess of cash in the restricted fund and a shortfall of cash in the unrestricted fund.
Doriot worked closely with local county officials and others in pushing for a change.
The proposal to adjust how motor vehicle highway funds can be used hit a roadblock in the House where House Ways and Means Committee Chair Tim Brown appears to have blocked it.
“Unfortunately, that’s the power that the chairmen have. And sometimes we think it’s bad,” Doriot said. “But that’s really where we’re at. I don’t think we’re going to get it done this year.”