“For schools, the [state] budget bill is always first and foremost importance,” said Terry Spradlin, executive director of CEEP.
The importance seemed elevated this year, as the Legislature moved to expand school vouchers for low-income families who want to send their children to private schools, using state support. Among other things, the new law waives the requirement that income-eligible students living in failing schools districts attend a public school for a year before applying for a voucher, and it makes it easier for children with special needs and for the siblings of students already in the voucher program to get a voucher.
Paul DiPerna, with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, hails the expanded voucher program and predicts it will lead to the improvement of public schools that will compete for those students.
But Todd Bess, head of the Indiana Association of School Principals, sees “far-reaching implications” in how the program was expanded, by easing eligibility to cover more students without capping the final numbers.
And Frank Bush, with the Indiana School Boards Association, also fears the expanded voucher program will cut into public school funding: “This is particularly troubling in a time when even more is expected of public school services.”
Some of the other laws passed by the Legislature last session that will impact the state’s K-12 schools this coming school year:
• Senate Enrolled Act 1, known as the School Resource Officers and School Safety law, which establishes the “secured school fund” to help schools hire police officers, conduct threat assessments for school buildings, and purchase safety equipment and technology. Before the law was passed, legislators removed a controversial provision in the bill requiring at least one staff member be trained in using and carrying a weapon on school grounds.
• Senate Enrolled Act 338, which addresses the problem of chronic absenteeism in schools. It broadens the definition of “chronic absenteeism” and “habitual truant” to include more students that routinely don’t show up for school, and it requires the Department of Education to provide local schools with more resources and guidance to deal with students who don’t show up for class — even those with excused absences. A critical part of the bill also requires schools to report their absentee rates and for that information to be included in their annual performance reports which are public.