Pence gives approval to Indiana's $31 billion spending plan, with shifts in school funding

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LEBANON, Indiana — A new state budget that includes a modest increase in school funding, along with significant shifts in how that money is distributed to school districts, was signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday.

The two-year state spending plan that was approved by the General Assembly last week directs slightly more than half of its $31 billion toward K-12 education, with that funding going up 2.3 percent each year.

Pence stood before bleachers full of a few hundred youngsters at Perry-Worth Elementary School as he praised the budget for making a "historic investment" in education with a $480 million boost over the next two years. Pence then put his signature on the budget bill as four students stood next to him and handed him pens to use.

A key push by legislative Republicans in developing the spending plan was to shift money from shrinking urban and rural school districts to those in growing suburban communities.

Democrats calculate that about a third of Indiana's nearly 300 school districts will see tens of millions of dollars in funding cuts under the changes and predict hundreds of teacher layoffs around the state.

Economists hired by the state project that inflation over the next two years will be about the same as the 2.3 percent education funding increase, but Pence maintained that schools around the state would benefit.

"It's not just about the money," he said. "What I'm most encouraged about is the way that we're making sure the dollars more accurately follow the child so that dollars are getting to schools as populations change, as the needs of schools change."

Other provisions in the budget create a new $10 million charter schools grant fund and include Pence's request to drop the cap of $4,800 per elementary school pupil enrolled in the state's private school voucher program.

"There is something for everyone in education in this budget," Pence said.

Rep. Greg Porter of Indianapolis, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the Republican-backed plan simply "amped up the process of gutting our state's public school system."

Republicans turned down Democrats' calls during the legislative session to specify in the budget how much money is going toward traditional public schools, charter schools and the voucher program.

Porter said that by doing so Republicans "can continue the myth that they are helping all. In fact, they are helping a select few."

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