Compiled by Randy Hudgins
Each week we will take a look at what’s happening in the Indiana legislature with insights from social studies educator Randy Hudgins. This is his report on the highlights of bills in committee during the seventh week of the current session.
Note: The deadline for a House-introduced bill (one with a 1000 number) to be voted out of the House is Monday, February 27. The deadline for a Senate-introduced bill (one with a 100 number) to be voted out of the Senate is Tuesday, February 28.
Bills Passing or Going Through Committee
House Bill 1608—Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Instruction (author: Michelle Davis-R). HB 1608 was amended at the start of Monday’s committee hearing to a more nebulous directive that discussions of human sexuality cannot be taught in grades K–3. This answer led to the question to define what “human sexuality” instruction would be and what types of questions were in bounds and out of bounds. The bill’s sponsor stated that a teacher fielding a question from a student about whether a student had two parents of the same gender would be allowed, but nothing further. There is murky language in an amendment that gives fig-leaf coverage to this assertion. No language exists in the bill as to what can be said and what cannot be said. School administrators are not directed to create a reporting and grievance process for parents. The Department of Education is not given any guidance on how to enforce this law or whether any adjustment of curriculum or state standards is necessary. An amendment also went through that forbids teachers and school personnel from calling students by a different-gendered name, or using different pronouns in addressing a student unless they have written authorization from a parent. The school must also contact a parent if a student has requested to be called by a different gender name and/or pronouns as well. The committee held nearly four hours of testimony on the bill before voting 9-4 along party lines to advance it to the full Senate. The bill passed the House on a mostly party-line vote on Thursday. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle coverage.)
House Bill 1001—State Budget (author: Jeffrey Thompson-R). The first draft of the State Budget for 2023–2024 was released on Friday 2/17 by the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. The major headline is a doubling of funds allocated to the private school voucher program. It is important to note that less than 10% of Hoosier pupils attend private schools covered by vouchers. Under the current budget, a family of four making $154,000 or less could qualify for a voucher covering 90% of private school tuition. The proposed budget increases this income limit to $220,000. According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, in 2020 the average family of four in Indiana made $90,654 a year. This expansion will account for $500 million in spending this year and $600 million in 2024. This represents one-third of the nearly $2 billion in total K–12 spending proposed in the new budget. From this, Republicans will trumpet that they are delivering “record levels” of funding in K–12, without the explanation that the record levels of funding are driven by subsidizing private school educations for children of the wealthiest Hoosier families. Meanwhile spending on public K–12 schools is only increased 6%. The budget does not seem to make any sizable investment in stemming the crisis of daycare/pre-K availability and cost in our state. $225 million is allotted for public health spending, which is only two-thirds of what Governor Holcomb proposed and even less than a bipartisan commission chaired by Luke Kenley recommended recently. The budget does accomplish the goal of eliminating textbook fees for Hoosier families. $500 million in funding for READI grants, which have significantly improved infrastructure as well as broadband access across our state, are included. In a disappointing development, only $10 million is allocated for mental health treatment, especially to individuals taken into police custody or those who are incarcerated. $40 million was proposed in Senate Bill 1, which overwhelmingly passed, only to have funding stripped out at the last minute.
Democrats led by Ed DeLaney proposed a counter budget that would trim spending on READI grants, and impose higher taxes on cigarettes and sports betting in an effort to increase educational funding, particularly to fund more counselors for students in Indiana schools. (Read the Indiana Public Radio and Indiana Capital Chronicle coverage.)
Updates from Wednesday: The budget went before the full house for amendment on Wednesday. An amendment was proposed by Lorissa Sweet (R-Wabash) to defund the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. This institution is a flagship part of Indiana University and has existed for nearly 75 years. It is renowned around the world for its research on human sexuality. The proponent of the amendment asserted the well-worn trope that the Kinsey Institute is hiding child predators and encouraging deviant behavior toward children. The vote on the amendment was 53–34 with nine Republicans voting against it. Jerry Torr was the only local Republican voting against the amendment. (Read the Indiana Capital Chronicle coverage.)
Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) proposed an amendment to keep the expenditures of the school voucher program at current levels. Not only was the amendment voted down on a party-line vote, but Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) actively spoke out against the amendment—which is quite rare. He indicated that he favors universal school choice in Indiana.
During Thursday’s proceedings, Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) commented that, “In my view, we’ve turned the voucher program into an entitlement—a vast, new entitlement for people who are doing pretty darn well in life.”
The budget passed the House on Thursday along mostly party lines. As always, there are indications that certain provisions, including the massive increase in school voucher funding, will get a chilly reception in the Senate.
Senate Bill 486—Educational Matters (author: Linda Rogers-R). This is a top-priority bill for public school teachers around the state. The bill is touted as cutting through specific trainings teachers are required to take every year in areas such as bullying prevention, awareness of students with home instability, identifying human trafficking, suicide awareness and prevention, and push those to teacher training programs. It also works to streamline the ways in which teachers are evaluated. However, the bombshell is hidden in the middle of this bill. It gives administration the option to not discuss critical topics relating to student learning, classroom conditions, student discipline, work hours, and other critical elements of the day-to-day atmosphere of their school with the union representatives. If you ask a public school teacher, and they have heard of this bill, they are probably against it. The bill passed the Senate 28–20 with several Republicans voting against it. Locally, Kyle Walker, Jim Buck, and Scott Baldwin all voted in favor of this bill (and against teachers). (Read the WFYI coverage here.)
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