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Budget increases, not cuts for Indiana K-12 public schools

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP): Indiana’s K-12 public schools will not face funding cuts during the upcoming fiscal year, despite coronavirus-fueled state revenue losses, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday.

The state plans to move forward with the current budget, which includes a $183 million increase for K-12 spending for 2020-21. Holcomb also said he supports fully funding all students enrolled in the state’s public schools, whether they’re attending class in-person or online. The Legislature has allocated $7.5 billion from the General Fund for tuition support for the year.

“Not only have our K-12 schools been spared the knife — or a cut in their budgets — even while a global pandemic has truly washed upon our shores,” Holcomb said, “but this just underscores the priority or the importance that was placed at this very foundational level.”

An economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has led to questions about state revenues and possible budget cuts. Holcomb said the decision to leave K-12 funding was reached in collaboration with legislative leaders, calling it a testament to “how important it has been that we have prudently managed our state, fiscally speaking, through the good times and the tough times.”

State superintendent Jennifer McCormick hailed the announcement.

“Schools will have one less stressor as they continue to educate our students during this unprecedented time,” she said in a statement

Republican state Sen. Ryan Mishler said he was glad the funding would continue as planned, “though we acknowledge there are many unknowns as we move forward.” He said he would “support fully” the funding of students who attend classes virtually because of restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the virus.

All Indiana schools closed in mid-March and largely shifted to online coursework.

The Indiana School Boards Association called Holcomb’s commitment “tremendous news” considering the decline in state revenue, which is projected to be as much as $2 billion by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

In the third straight month of shortfalls, Indiana reported state tax collections coming in $230 million, or 20%, below expectations for May. Officials expect those declines to persist in the coming months as the pandemic continues to play out. Looking ahead, Holcomb said state budget officials estimate that the loss during the next 14 months could be even larger than the $3 billion decline that followed the 2008-09 recession.

To compensate, public universities still face 7% in cuts — equal to a $103 million — according to plans released last week. State agencies have also been directed to cut 15% for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Holcomb said the cuts to higher education were unwanted, but a sacrifice to to protect dollars going to K-12 schools.

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