Today was the deadline for lawmakers to file bills in the state legislature, and some local representatives are already preparing for a big debate over education funding.
At a forum on January 10, legislators from the Monroe County area said money for schools would be one the biggest issues this legislative session. The officials spoke at a legislative update sponsored by the local League of Women Voters.
State Rep. Matt Pierce (D) whose district includes most of Bloomington said both major political parties agree there should be changes to the formula the state uses to fund public schools.
“You have rural, suburban and urban schools that often have stable or declining enrollments,” Pierce said. “The question is, how will the formula impact those schools? Some schools have more kids from poverty and usually more money is gevn to those schools to help children that may be struggling with things that get in the way of their learning.”
Under the current funding formula, public schools in Gary and Indianapolis receive larger amounts of funding per pupil than most other districts.
Rep. Matt Ubelhor (R) said he expects some conflict over how the formula is changed.
“I think the one thing as Pierce pointed out that’s going to be critical is the funding formula for schools,” Ubelhor says. “In our caucus one child isn’t worth more than another child, no matter where the go to school.”
The two parties are also expected to disagree on how to fund charter schools and school vouchers. Democrats like Pierce have traditionally opposed the trend toward funding those programs, which draw money away from public schools.
While there is disagreement on education, representatives from both parties seemed to agree more closely about funding for criminal justice programs. Last year the legislature made major changes to the criminal code in hopes of diverting some low-level offenders away from prison. Those offenders are instead supposed to be dealt with on a local level, but Pierce said the state has yet to adequately fund those local programs.
“The issue is will the people crafting the budget put money into those programs so we can get them going,” Pierce says. “I’m a little dismayed because the Governor’s budget hasn’t earmarked money for those programs. And, instead, calls for more money to be spent about $51 million to add new prison beds to the Department of Corrections which doesn’t make any sense because we just passed this bill to get people out of there.”
Ubelhor said he also agreed the state should fund the local programs. Officials in the Monroe County government have voiced public concern in recent months about the issue. The County’s Community Corrections Department expects an influx of offenders to its programs.
Monroe County would also be directly affected by another initiative discussed at the legislative update. State Senator Mark Stoops said he plans to file a bill that would help Bloomington Transit expand its services outside the city.
“We hope to make it more of a regional transit system,” Stoops says. “We want to add an income tax to people in the region that would allow Bloomington and Rural transit to provide routes into the rural communities like Smithville, Elletsville and even hopefully Nashville or Bedford.”
Stoops said the expanded service could be useful to commuters and could reduce traffic on local roads.