Apr 13, 2023 - Politics

No voucher expansion in Senate budget proposal

The Indiana Statehouse

Lawmakers have two weeks left to finalize bills and iron out the state's next two-year spending plan. Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A proposed massive expansion to the state's private school voucher program is a key sticking point between GOP lawmakers who are crafting the next two-year budget.

Driving the news: Indiana Senate Republicans revealed their budget on Thursday, and it holds true to Sen. Ryan Mishler's promise to oppose any new funding for the voucher program until participating schools are subject to greater accountability.

  • Meanwhile, House Republicans want to eliminate entry restrictions for the program and open access so it is only limited by an income threshold. The caucus proposed raising that threshold to roughly $220,000 for a family of four.

Flashback: Earlier in the session, Mishler — the Senate's lead budget writer — issued a scathing letter raising concerns about administration at a prominent private school in northern Indiana that's one of the biggest beneficiaries of the voucher program.

The big picture: The biennial budget dictates how Indiana will spend more than $43 billion over the next two years — and contains a great deal of public policy, and philosophical differences on those issues can be harder to iron out than splitting the difference between proposed appropriations.

By the numbers: The Senate Republicans' budget proposal would give K-12 schools $17.5 billion over the two years, an increase of nearly 5% in the first year and another 4.5% in the second year.

  • It fully funds Medicaid, which is expected to cost $7.5 billion over the biennium.
  • Mental health initiatives would receive $35 million, but that figure is expected to grow in the final budget deal.
  • It gives the Collaborative Communities program, modeled after the popular READI grants that allow cities to apply for funding to support community development projects, $500 million over the biennium.
  • The state would have $3.2 billion in reserves, which equates to 14.7%, in 2025.

Of note: The Senate budget kept a House amendment that would block state dollars from going to the Kinsey Institute, a research body housed at Indiana University that's devoted to the study of human sexuality.

  • The House adopted the amendment after Rep. Lorissa Sweet, R-Wabash, raised long-held but largely debunked allegations about the work of the institute's namesake — Alfred Kinsey, who died in 1956.

What's next: The bill should sail through the Senate largely unchanged. The real work will start next week, after the state receives its updated revenue forecast — which gives lawmakers a better estimate of how much money they can spend over the next two years.

  • The final version of the budget will require votes by both chambers, expected in the last few days of the session, which must end by April 29.

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