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State budget narrowly passes, education receives increase

The Indiana General Assembly approved a two-year, $26 billion budget late Sunday night which will provide increases in annual spending for Indiana schools and Medicaid and $550 million in property tax relief for homeowners.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has said that he will sign the bill.
The assembly also passed legislation Sunday night that prohibits Indiana’s five riverboat casinos from relocating.
The new state budget narrowly passed the House, 51-49. Every Republican House member voted against the bill. It was approved in the Senate 41-9.
Under the new budget, Indiana homeowners will receive $300 million in property tax relief in the form of a rebate check that should hit mailboxes this fall. Next year, $250 million will be spent to lower bills in the form of homestead credits.
It also includes $1 billion for road projects and $500 million for Medicaid.
The state budget includes almost $600 million in new state dollars for Indiana’s K-12 public schools, which includes a 3.7 increase statewide for schools.
However, the 3.7 percent increase in funding is just an average figure. Some schools may receive more and some may receive less since the state adopted a new policy years ago in which funding basically follows the student.
South Harrison Supt. Neyland Clark said a lot of schools would likely receive less than that amount quoted by the state legislature.
‘Everyone is talking about the 3.7 percent,’ Clark said, adding that the misconception that all schools would receive that amount was a problem for superintendents when it came time for negotiations with teachers, bus drivers and other cost issues.
‘This is not a great windfall of money,’ Clark said.
Clark said many programs mandated by the state are still not fully funded, although he did not want to sound ungrateful.
‘We are very blessed to have representatives like (Rep.) Paul Robertson and (Sen.) Richard Young working for us,’ Clark said.
Lanesville Supt. Phil Partenheimer agreed with Clark and said Lanesville would most likely not receive a 3.7 percent increase in funding.
‘If we were a growing school corporation, we’d get close to that,’ Partenheimer said. He added that their numbers were decreasing.
‘I’d be suprised if we got the same (funding) as last year,’ he said. ‘I’m waiting to see how that filters out to us.’
North Harrison Supt. Monty Schneider was unavailable for comment.
The state budget also includes a $75 million increase in funding for full-day kindergarten. Lawmakers did not make the program mandatory.
About 40 percent of Indiana’s 75,000 kindergarten students currently attend a full-time kindergarten program according to figures provided by the Indiana Dept. of Education. Currently, the program is made possible by some combination of federal Title I funds, local general fund dollars, state grants and, in some cases, parent fees.
The $8.5 currently allocated annually allows for state grants to support programs for about 10,000 of those students.
The new budget will increase the funding for full-day kindergarten to $33.5 million in 2008 and then to $58.5 million in 2009.
Exactly how many students will benefit from the increase in funding is still not clear. School corporations that opt to have full-day kindergarten can receive up to $2,500 per student. However, the amount they receive will be based on the number of schools that decide to participate.
Partenheimer said he expects the increase in funding will make more schools want to offer full-day kindergarten and the increase in the number of schools requesting the funding could actually decrease the amount available to each school.
Clark said the funds are also available to charter schools (private-based) which makes the amount available to the public schools even less.
Both superintendents said they would need an increase in funding this year to continue their full-day kindergarten programs and expected they would ask the Harrison County Commissioners for more riverboat funding.
K-12 schools will also see an appropriation of $39 million for both years for textbook reimbursement, an increase of a previous $20 million. The budget also provides increases in funding for special education, vocational education and non-English speaking programs.
At the university level, the new budget provides more than $500 million in university building projects, including $1 million to explore a medical education center on the IU Southeast campus.

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