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Ritz pushes for 3 percent hike in education budget

Lawmakers begin the 2019 session in January. Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat

If Glenda Ritz gets her way, Indiana schools could see a 3 percent increase in their budgets over the next two years and parents could get relief from textbook bills.

The Indiana Department of Education announced Thursday it submitted its two-year budget request to the state, calling for increases to funding for public schools and state funding for textbooks. The legislature will devise a new two-year state budget early next year for 2016 and 2017.

“This investment will strengthen schools throughout Indiana, both rural and urban,” Ritz said in a statement. “This increase will give our schools much needed flexibility in their budgets while they deal with increases in their fixed costs, such as transportation, utilities and technology. I look forward to working with members of the legislature on this vital investment.”

In 2013, Gov. Mike Pence proposed a hike of more than $300 million to fund education, creating all-time high budget of more than $6.5 billion devoted to the K-12 system. His plan was for a 2 percent budget increase in 2014 and a 1 percent bump in 2015.

Ritz also called for state funding to be spent on textbooks and instructional materials. Indiana is one of eight states that requires families to pay for textbook rentals for their children.

“By funding these at the state level, we can guarantee that all districts have equitable resources for texts while also giving parents a much needed financial break,” Ritz said.

A representative from Indiana’s Center for Career Innovation, the education department created and supported by Pence, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Democratic legislators cheered Ritz’s proposal. House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Ritz’s calls for a 3 percent budget increase “should be cause for celebration.” Pelath also supported Ritz’s call for state-funding for textbooks.

“After years of seeing previous state school superintendents and administrations place a greater budget priority on vouchers and private schools, we are finally seeing an awareness that something needs to be done to make our public schools whole,” Pelath said in a statement. “State support is the cornerstone of the system that carries a constitutional responsibility to educate all our children, not just a select few, and it is good to see a return to that consideration.”

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