The Indiana Department of Education has asked for a $600 million increase in funding from the Legislature for the 2017 fiscal year. Officials say the funds are necessary to expand state-funded pre-k for all kids, increase tuition support for all schools and bump up funding for small, rural schools.
The 2017 General Assembly, which convenes in January, will craft a two-year budget. Typically, money allocated for education is over half of the state’s budget.
State superintendent Glenda Ritz has advocated statewide pre-K as part of her re-election campaign. Earlier this summer, Ritz and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg called for universal state funded pre-k in the state as part of the Democratic platform.
Currently, the state pilots a program that gives pre-k scholarships to a limited number of low-income families in five counties. Friday, a group of business and philanthropy leaders as well as Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, publicly asked the legislature to fund pre-k for all low-income families in the state.
The price tag for the DOE’s universal pre-k program is $147 the first year, according to the department. Ritz and Gregg have expressed confidence that the funds are available in the budget.
Another part of the DOE’s budget request focuses on increasing financial assistance to Indiana’s small schools. Statewide, enrollment has decreased in smaller school districts. The state’s current funding closely ties school funding to enrollment, so enrollment drops mean these rural schools receive less money.
“We need to invest in our small schools,” said Ritz, in a statement. “Indiana is a state of communities, and our schools are the heart of many of our smaller communities. I travel throughout Indiana two to three days a week, and I constantly see small schools, especially in rural communities, struggling to maintain their educational programing.”
The department also wants to expand a tax deduction that is currently only available for families with students in private schools. Currently, parents of private school students are eligible for a tax credit to help offset the cost of textbooks.
Instead Ritz wants a $1,000 tax deduction for all families to help offset the costs of textbooks.
“The parents of children in private schools have received this tax deduction for years,” said Ritz, in a statement. “It is time for middle class Hoosiers to get a tax break as well.”
The 2017 General Assembly convenes in January and will create a budget for the next two years.