Top education bills: What you need to know

IND. - Education has been a priority for Indiana state lawmakers this legislative session with several bills being discussed.

But what does this mean for your child's education? We're going to break down the most important ones that could impact you watching at home.

Starting in early January, Indiana lawmakers have discussed hundreds of bills and quite a few pertain to education. The state has shown a focus on educational spending this year, with $408 million dollars earmarked for K-12 schooling.

But where is that money being directed? It depends. Let’s walk through some of the bills that determine that answer:

Starting with one of the most controversial, Senate Bill 1005, a matter of school choice.

"Parent chooses to send their kid to a private school, then and they meet the financial test, they can get a voucher or a scholarship," Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Raatz said.

School choice language was passed a decade ago. But now lawmakers like Sen. Raatz are trying to expand eligibility in 3 ways.

1) By making it easier to get vouchers.

2) Changing the education savings account 

"To have access to special needs dollars that follow the student as well based on their IEP, and they could choose to get services elsewhere outside the school," Sen. Raatz said.

3) And increasing charter school grant stipends.

"We had been at $750 per student, the state has done the house senate over it would increase to $1000 in the first year of the budget 21, 22. In the second year, the budget goes to $1250, so an increase of $250 each year. The senate sent it back and moved it to $1,000 added 250. And that was it," he said.

Raatz said this levels the playing field for charter schools to receive the same amount of taxpayer money that public schools get.

"So it's to backfill," he said.

The only problem? Public schools could lose out, even with an increase in K-12 spending in the budget.

"The house sent over 378 million new dollars in K-12 funding. The senate sent back $408 million," he said.

But not all of that money is set to go to public schools.

 “I was so grateful to our Governor when he came forth with the budget," Scot Croner, Superintendent at Wa-Nee Community Schools said. “Unfortunately, there are certain bills down there that would pretty much eat all that up.”

"If you look at the proportion of those funds, about somewhere around 40% is going to vouchers," Senate Minority Leader for the Indiana Senate Democrats, Sen. Greg Taylor said.

"That's money that gets taken away from public schools. And in this case, allows more than likely families that are already going to private schools, they get a tax break,” Croner said.

So where are we really with Senate Bill 1005?

"Well, the concept is in the budget, and some form or fashion of it will pass I believe," Sen. Raatz said.

Other bills like Senate Bill 64, a gun law, died early on.

"Senate Bill 64 would require that if a school board permitted a teacher or a staff member to carry a firearm on campus or in a school that he's here, they would need to be trained according to certain stipulations that are spelled out in this bill in order to be able to have that firearm on campus," State Sen. Shelli Yoder said. "We heard that bill in education, pretty much one of the first bills that we heard in the committee, and it died in committee. We didn't vote on it and it had some pretty serious opposition from the NRA.”

Or were never even talked about at all, like Senate Bill 212 written by Sen. Yoder.

"It was a non-discrimination bill that would require charter schools to bring their language and require that they have a non-discrimination clause for both student and teacher. All my bill did was bring Indiana code up to those federal protections and include those classifications, and yet it did not get a hearing," Sen. Yoder said. "We're going to continue to have to fight for another day.”

Same with Senate Bill 388. Drafted by Sen. Greg Taylor,  the bill seeks to move the age to start education from 7 to 5 years old.

"We found that early childhood education is a clear indicator of success in the educational area. And that children that actually attend Pre-K and or some kind of preliminary school before seven actually do better, they have better outcomes. So I've offered this piece of legislation for several years now. And fortunately, the republican supermajority has decided that this is not something they want to hear. So the bill never gets a hearing," Sen. Taylor said.

Tana: "Never?"

"It has never received a hearing," he said.

In the end, everything just coming down to money.

“I don't think fiscally we want to be responsible for educating every five-year-old in the state. Remember, the general fund of the state of Indiana pays for education in Indiana. So when you add, I would say probably 50 or 60,000 kids to the formula that costs money. And we are very fiscally conservative," he said.

One education bill, already written into law is Senate Bill 2 which helps public schools keep their funding by reclassifying what it means to be a virtual school.

The budget is supposed to be finalized tomorrow.

After an updated projection of state tax revenues, lawmakers will have about $2 billion more to use and some are hopeful at least part of the money will go towards K-12 education.

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