Compiled by Randy Hudgins
Each week of this session we have taken a look at what’s happening in the Indiana legislature with insights from social studies educator Randy Hudgins. This is his report on the results of the final week of the legislative session.
Bills That Passed
House Bill 1001—State Budget (author: Jeff Thompson-R): Fiscal conservatism was not on display this week as the Republican Supermajority passed the state budget after 2 a.m. on Friday. The finalized budget allocated $1.1 billion to school vouchers for non-public schools. Remember that under 10 percent of Indiana students attend non-public schools. To make matters worse, the final budget was adjusted multiple times on Thursday. The original Thursday version of the budget included no increase in funding for 75% of Indiana school districts over the next two years. It provided not even an increase in funding to keep up with inflation, but no increase in funding at all.
After fielding calls from school districts and teachers across the state, Republicans announced that an updated budget would be issued at 9 p.m. The reason given for the update was an error in the calculation of school funding in the previous draft. Nobody believes that was the case. If it was, then it borders on incompetence by the General Assembly, which had four months to get it right.
The budget called for a family of four making $220,000 a year or less (which is 97% of students) to be eligible for a K-12 voucher. However, if you need to find a daycare spot, or enroll your child in a pre-K program, the cutoff is around $30,000 a year. The lack of investment in childcare and pre-K after last summer’s abortion ban is deplorable.
The bill also gives a substantial pay raise to statewide elected officials, even though this language in the bill had no public comment in committee, and was not voted on by either house as the budget went through the process.
Funding for SB 1 addressing an increase in state mental health access and funding seems to be around the same as previous versions of the budget. $60 million in funding goes to setting up the 988 hotline and for regional mental health treatment centers. This is half of what a previous blue-ribbon commission recommended.
House Bill 1447—Third-party Surveys (and Book Bans) (author: Donna Schaibley-R): Purple For Parents and Moms For Liberty finally got their library book bans this week—although they are probably upset that the law did not extend to public libraries. Republicans shamelessly cut and pasted language from two bills that failed to pass this session into an unrelated bill in order to pass some type of book ban. The target of this newest moral panic: school librarians. When we think of subversive people in our communities, these wonderful folks are not high on our list of threats.
The only way they could get this bill through is by limiting it to school libraries. It includes language that libraries already practice: Posting their whole catalog and allowing for a challenge process for those who object to materials. What library doesn’t keep a catalog of its materials? Have the people proposing this language ever been to a library?
The most damnable part of this bill is the removal of protections from criminal prosecution for teachers, librarians, administrators, and school staff who are deemed to have a connection to a student checking out a book that some parent can challenge as obscene material. It removes the defense that the material is for educational purposes.
Somewhere in Indiana, a parent will object to a Holocaust documentary or a Civil Rights book because it contains pictures of human atrocities that happened and were documented, and it will lead to calls to fire and jail an educator.
Senate Bill 486—Educational Matters (author: Linda Rogers-R): Senate Bill 486 passed the Senate by a narrow 27–23 vote. The bill will strip teachers of their rights to hold public, documented discussion with building- and district-level administrators on topics of classroom, school safety, and work conditions. Administrators were required by law to have these meetings. Under this law, they are now optional. We are hoping for a veto because signing this bill will lead us to lose hundreds of teachers and will make our schools less safe. Teachers prevent more school safety incidents than anyone else in our society. They do so by having an open channel with administrators. If administrators do not have to have those conversations, dangerous incidents will not be prevented.
House Bill 1608—“Don’t Say Gay” (author: Michelle Davis-R): This unnecessary and hate-driven law, motivated by out-of-state interest groups, is on the governor’s desk. The first controversial part of the law demands that teachers inform parents if students ask to change their name or pronouns. In addition, it requires that “human sexuality” not be taught in grades K–3. While sex education is not part of the K–3 curriculum, no clarification is in the law as to what a teacher can and cannot say. Does this mean that a teacher with a same-sex partner cannot say anything about their personal life or family when a student asks? Can a picture of a student and their family including same-sex or parents of non-traditional gender roles not be displayed in a classroom? All it takes is one overactive busy-body parent to run a great teacher out of the profession. It will be interesting to see which Indiana community this will happen in first and how Republican lawmakers will attempt to explain it away.
Upcoming Items of Importance
Upcoming: The Indiana Supreme Court has still yet to issue their final ruling on the constitutionality of the recent near-total abortion ban in Indiana. The case was argued in January, and there is no clear indication on when an opinion will be handed down. Until that opinion is handed down, the law cannot be enforced.
Issues Not Addressed (or Marginally Addressed) This Week
Recruiting and retaining quality teachers for every classroom in Indiana
Increasing the number of quality, affordable daycare slots in the state of Indiana
For Further Reading or Listening
Good Explainer on the Conference Committee Process
Good Overall Celebration of Positive Bills from the Term—Niki Kelly, ICC
A Final Note
This session of the state legislature is over. Lawmakers voted early Friday morning to declare Sine Die, which is the official end to the session. They can be brought back into special session if an extenuating circumstance arises between now and January 2024.
Thank you for reading our weekly updates. It is our hope that readers have found them an informative look into the workings of our state government. Please vote this May and November.
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