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House GOP Budget Prioritizes School Vouchers, Cuts Cigarette Tax Hike In Half

By Brandon Smith, IPB News | Published on in Education, Government, Health, Politics
Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) is the chief architect of the House Republican budget proposal. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)
Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) is the chief architect of the House Republican budget proposal. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Indiana House Republicans want to spend at least $65 million less on traditional K-12 schools in their state budget plan than Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed.

The House GOP budget instead prioritizes increases for school vouchers and virtual schools.

The proposal increases tuition support for K-12 schools by $378 million over the next two years – that’s $1 million more than Holcomb’s proposal. But the House Republican plan includes a significant expansion of school vouchers for private schools, taking up $66 million of that increase.

Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) is his caucus’s budget architect.

“Parents by far and away want to make choices for their kids,” Brown said. “They want to have options.”

There’s also no specific new help to increase teacher pay. The governor’s teacher compensation commission unveiled more than a dozen recommendations for the General Assembly late last year and the state budget proposal from House Republicans doesn’t include a single one.

Asked how his plan helps teacher salaries, Brown pointed to pre-existing teacher appreciation grants (which did not get an increase) and the overall K-12 spending boost.

“The decision on what a teacher gets paid is a local school board decision,” Brown said. “And you don’t want the Indiana General Assembly to become a school board.”

House Republicans’ proposed state budget also cuts a potential cigarette tax increase in half.

Legislation already approved by one committee this session would raise the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack. Health advocates (who pushed for an even higher increase) say that’s the point at which such a tax hike pushes people to quit smoking.

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana’s Legislative Session? Here’s Your Guide To Demystify The Process

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But Brown’s proposal only raises it by just 50 cents.

“Had a discussion among all the members in Indiana House Republicans and what was permissible,” Brown said. “Some people don’t want to do any tax increase at all.”

House Republicans also prioritized one-time expenses very differently than Governor Holcomb. Holcomb’s proposal would have spent $700 million this summer out of state budget reserves to pay down debt; $300 million for state highway and other capital projects and $400 million for a teacher pension fund.

But the House GOP plan only spends $110 million this year on the debt for those capital projects. Instead, they propose using budget reserve dollars to create a new grant program that helps students with learning loss from the pandemic, a small business restart grant program to help those trying to recover from the pandemic and money to improve the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which trains a majority of police across Indiana.

The budget bill passed out of committee Thursday. It now goes to the House floor.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.