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Education a winner in 2019 session?

With an image of Abe Lincoln and the American flag as a backdrop, State Sen. Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) recapped the recently concluded 2019 Indiana General Assembly for a group attending Thursday’s Henry County GOP meeting.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

As a financial services provider by trade, State Sen. Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) knows how to follow the money.

Thursday night, he drew a financial road map of sorts for Henry County Republicans concerning the recently concluded Indiana General Assembly budget session – especially where education was concerned.

Gaskill represents Fall Creek, Jefferson, Prairie, Stoney Creek and Blue River townships in northern Henry County as part of District 26

He said Thursday that in spite of what some might be saying, the recently agreed upon two-year state budget continues to put education first.

“We increased K-12 education by $763 million,” Gaskill said. “It’s just over 50 percent of the total budget. If you compared Indiana’s percent of spending on K-12 as a percentage on our total budget, we were third in the nation for the amount spent on education.”

Gaskill said both Blue River Valley and Shenandoah – the two Henry County school corporations in District 26 – will have more money to spend.

He said Blue River stands to receive 5.5 percent more funding in fiscal year 2020 and 5.2 percent additional in fiscal year 2021. Just down the road, Shenandoah is scheduled to receive 3.2 percent more in 2020 and 2.9 percent additional in 2021.

Gaskill told Henry County Republicans when all was said and done at the final gavel late last month, he believed a balanced budget, one that continues to put education first, was achieved.

But he’s mindful there are critics.

“Some of our Democrat colleagues have criticized us about teacher pay,” Gaskill said. “You may find teachers in California and New York making substantially more than our teachers, but how would you like to have their cost of living? So it’s kind of relative.”

Others, particularly on the Democrat side, said more, if not all, of the state surplus should be used to bolster certain programs.

But Gaskill said while the surplus, estimated at 1.8 billion by some accounts, sounded like a lot of money, it is a deceiving number when the cost of running a state is considered. He said the current surplus would be enough money to run state government for approximately 39 days.

“I don’t feel very comfortable having 39 days of worth of reserves,” he said. “We would probably all agree in our home budgets we would try to do better than that. We’d get a little worried if we’re down that low.”

Still others say too much is being given to charter and private schools. Again, Gaskill cited the numbers.

“People bemoan the fact we spend money on charter schools and choice scholarship vouchers,” Gaskill said. “But if you look at it, 93 percent of state education funding is spent on traditional public schools. Four and a half percent is spent on charter schools, which are also public schools, which people sometimes forget.”

Cries for more state money spent on education would be tempered if the bills for operation came directly to the Indiana taxpayer instead of to state government, Gaskill said.

“What if the way we paid for education was a per-person tax on every man, woman and child?” Gaskill asked hypothetically. “So if you take the $13,837,000 that we have for traditional public schools and divide it by the population of Indiana, we come out to $2,090.34 for every man, woman and child.

“If you’re a family of five with three kids, can you imagine if the state came to you every two years and said we need $10,000 to help fund K-12 education? So I think it shows a commitment to education by state government.”

In other business:

• Gaskill expressed appreciation for State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) and State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) in helping him navigate his first legislative session. “I was very grateful to be around some experienced legislators. One of those was that Saunders guy from Henry County,” he teased, drawing laughter from the local GOP. “He helped me get involved in a couple of things I was really proud to be a part of, gave me a lot of good advice and introduced me to some people in the House (of Representatives).

“It’s a little scary going down there for the first time,” Gaskill added. “You’ve got to learn the ropes pretty quick and there’s no instruction manual.”

• Henry County GOP officials commented on the great turnout at last Friday’s Lincoln Day Dinner, attended by 132 people. Indiana First Janet Holcomb participated in an question-answer session with Betsy Mills during that event. Party Chairman Todd Hiday said the profit from the event would likely exceed $2,500, double the amount of two years ago.

• Those attending Thursday’s meeting were reminded of the upcoming Memorial Day Parade scheduled 10 a.m. Monday, May 27. A Henry GOP float is planned for the event, the theme of which is “Always Remember.” Elected officials, volunteers and candidates are welcome to walk with the party’s float.

• Melissa Elmore also reminded everyone of the GOP Golf Outing scheduled Wednesday, May 29 at the Memorial Park Golf Course. Sign-in and lunch will be at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A shotgun start to the tournament will be at 1 p.m. with awards immediately following at the pro shop. Entry fee is $60 for a single, $240 for a foursome or $10 for those who just want to watch and have lunch.