By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – The 2021 version of the Indiana General Assembly is shaping up as one of the more unique in recent memory with a rare bipartisan vote on the two-year budget.
Lawmakers finished up the traditional long session Thursday, April 22, with a new budget but will have to return for a few days in the fall to finish the redistricting process.
But various factors came together leading to a $37 billion bipartisan two-year budget agreement that was opposed by only two lawmakers.
Not only was it different in that lawmakers were much more scattered instead of assembling in the legislative chamber because of the pandemic, but some hailed the session as transformative.
Two area lawmakers who participated in an online update hosted by the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce agreed with that assessment.
An April 23 online forum was attended by Rep. Craig Snow and Sen. Blake Doriot. Sen. Ryan Mishler and Rep. Curt Nisly, who normally attend, did not participate.
Nisly was one of two House Republicans who voted against the budget.
Attitudes began to shift in April when a new state revenue update showed an additional $2 billion in available funding and lawmakers then followed through by proportioning a larger share for education.
The bill expands the voucher program, but also includes more money for K-12 education.
“We more than met the governor’s task force on recommendations for schools,” Doriot said.
“You talk about Christmas in April when that revenue forecast came,” he said.
He said he hopes school boards direct some of that money as stipends for teachers.
“Most schools are getting a pretty good chunk,” Doriot said. “Smaller schools like Wa-Nee and Fairfield in my area, they’re getting a substantial amount of money.”
On top of that, the federal government is throwing a lot of one-time funding through the American Recovery Plan, providing schools and government united another boost.
Snow said he’s pleased with the state’s efforts to pass a “balanced and sustainable budget.”
“It’s an exciting time for schools.”
Dr. David Hoffert, superintendent of Warsaw Community Schools, shares some of that enthusiasm.
Hoffert, who heads up the chamber’s public policy committee, offered his appreciation for the legislation while moderating Friday’s discussion.
“On behalf of WCS, we are very thankful to the state legislature for their investment in public education. We are extremely grateful for their financial commitment and support of our local schools.”
This support will go a long way in supporting teacher compensation as outlined in the Governor’s Teacher Pay Report.
Hoffert offered “a big thank you” to Mishler and Snow for “their continued conversation and communication with the school board, administration and teachers” throughout this session.
Doriot said he thinks the pandemic, which kept many lawmakers distanced, had an impact toward the end of the session. By the end of the session, some were becoming agitated.
“We had to work more together because it wasn’t as convenient. You had to make an effort. It was transformative. It was bipartisan.”
“All in all, I’m surprised how well it went,” Doriot said.
Snow, in his first session as a state representative, has been honest about the sizeable learning curve in understanding the legislative process and all of the maneuvering that comes with it.
“I’m grateful,” Snow said. “I had a wonderful session. I learned a lot. I’ve got a lot more to learn.”