Budgeting Indiana's priorities

Posted by: Kim Heffner  | Thursday, February 26, 2015

We have now reached the midpoint of the 2015 legislative session. Over 100 of the 669 bills filed have passed out of the House and have been sent to the Senate for further consideration. Our highest priority bill is House Bill (HB) 1001, which is Indiana’s biennial budget. The House Republicans recently released our amendment to HB 1001, authored by Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, and I would like to share with you some of the details included in our proposal.

In past columns, I have detailed our legislative agenda for this session, and our proposed budget reflects the priorities we outlined. The proposed budget includes unprecedented funding for education and public safety while keeping taxes low for hard-working Hoosiers and making sure that we continue to live within our means.

As Chairman of the Education Committee, I am pleased that we prioritized education in our last budget, which was passed during the 2013 legislative session, and further increased that investment this year. The proposed budget dedicates more funds than ever to education. We have increased funding by $469 million over the biennium, which means that over $16 billion will be used to educate young Hoosiers.

Included in our budget, we have many initiatives geared to improve education in Indiana. One area we have dedicated money to is the Freedom to Teach initiative, which is something I championed as author of House Bill 1009. The bill frees teachers from burdensome regulations, enabling them to apply creative teaching methods in the classroom. The proposed budget allocates funds for a grant that is tied to this initiative, providing money to help teachers carry out their creative strategies. Funding for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers has also been strengthened to ensure that our students are better prepared to enter our increasingly technologically-advanced job-market. In addition, we are proposing a $200 tax credit for teachers to purchase classroom supplies.

While these innovations are important, we have raised the foundation level of dollars being spent, which is essentially the minimum guarantee each school receives per pupil. I am also pleased that we are increasing funds for special education grants that schools receive for students with moderate to severe disabilities. This is the first time it has been increased in 20 years and is an important step to ensure that more Hoosier students receive education catered to their specific, individual needs. When we invest in the future of our children, we are not only enabling them to better compete in our global economy, but also ensuring the continued success of our state.

I appreciate your feedback on these and other issues affecting our state. Please continue to contact me with your concerns. I can be reached by phone at 317-232-9643 or by email at h91@iga.in.gov.

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Rep. Behning (R-Indianapolis) represents portions of Marion and Hendricks counties. He also serves as Chairman of the Education Committee.