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Lawmakers Take First Steps To Fast-Track Virtual School Funding Legislation

Lobbyist for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, Joel Hand

Lobbyist for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, Joel Hand, testifies in support of HB 1003, one of two bills in the General Assembly addressing funding for schools during the pandemic. (Screenshot Indiana General Assembly live stream)

Indiana lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation to provide schools full funding for students learning remotely because of COVID-19. Lawmakers say the legislation may only be temporary to address changes caused by the pandemic.

Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 1003 are nearly identical – they both aim to circumvent a law passed in 2019 that limits funding for virtual school students. 

Senate Education and Career Development Committee Chair Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville) says the workaround only affects money that was already set aside for brick and mortar schools in the 2019 budget-writing legislative session.

"There was no new appropriation whatsoever, we're just – we had to change the definition so schools remain whole and the money was already available," he said.

Essentially, a student will get full funding if they weren't a virtual school student before the pandemic and didn't enroll in a dedicated virtual school this year – even if that student is learning through a virtual program or setup more than half of their school time as the pandemic continues.

It aligns with a similar change the Indiana State Board of Education approved during its September meeting

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana's Legislative Session? Here's Your Guide To Demystify The Process

Many groups rose in support of the legislation during the hearings Wednesday, but some supporters of virtual schools spoke as well, and took issue with a difference in funding levels for students enrolled in virtual schools at all. Lawmakers made the decision to limit funding for those students – as well as other new regulations for virtual schools – after two virtual charter schools stole millions of dollars by faking their enrollment data.

A House committee approved its version of the bill after hearing testimony Wednesday, but lawmakers in both chambers say they may explore additional changes as they work through the state budget throughout the session.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said a committee in the state Senate approved virtual student funding legislation Wednesday, Jan. 6. That is incorrect. The Senate committee heard testimony and debated the bill on that date, and voted to pass the legislation Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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