House Bill 1499 seeks to auto-enroll eligible Hoosier students in the state’s 21st Century Scholars Program. (Photo illustration via Canva)
A bill that would automatically enroll eligible Hoosier students into Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program — a statewide grant program that funds lower income student attendance at two- and four-year schools — advanced to the governor Wednesday in an 89-1 House vote.
Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, was the only no vote.
This bill requires the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (CHE) to work with the state education department to identify kids who qualify for the program, and then notify students and parents about their eligibility. Students must agree to participate in 21st Century Scholars and can opt out at any time.
“This has turned out to be an extremely important bill. 21st Century Scholars was known with some folks, but not maybe hitting a lot of the students throughout the state — particularly in low income areas — that were not knowledgeable about this,” said Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette. “But now, at least more students are learning about it and having the opportunity to take advantage of college education, where in other circumstances in the past, they’ve not been able to afford that.”
GOP Rep. Bob Behning, of Indianapolis, added that the bill “is a great step forward” to ensuring that all Hoosiers have the opportunity to earn “some sort of degree or credential.”
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb included CHE’s auto-enrollment goal in his 2023 legislative agenda. Administration officials said earlier that year that auto-enrollment shouldn’t be a cost to the state for six to seven years.
A separate bill that exempts Hoosier military members from paying income taxes is also on its way to the governor’s desk.
The final draft of the measure increases the active duty military income tax deduction from its current $5,000 cap to a full exemption. It further makes reservists and members of the Indiana National Guard eligible for the same exemption.
Currently, active duty National Guard and reserve members are exempt from the individual income tax.
House Bill 1034 originally proposed a phased-in approach, with full tax exemption not taking effect until 2027. The bill headed to the governor takes full effect July 1, however.
What’s the best way to teach financial literacy?
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are debating what to do with a bill mandating that students complete additional financial literacy requirements to graduate.
In contention is whether schools should have to offer a stand-alone course, or if financial literacy curriculum can be incorporated into existing courses, like algebra.
As currently drafted, Senate Bill 35 would require all Hoosier students — beginning with the Class of 2028 — to take a separate personal finance course before they graduate from high school.
The course would center around life skills like opening a bank account, applying for loans, managing debt, investing for retirement and filling out tax returns.
Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, said during a conference committee meeting on Wednesday that she supports the move to require an additional class. A former educator, Rogers recalled teaching a business class to high school students and the “importance” of getting kids knowledgeable about loans, insurance and retirement savings.
“These are things that I think — we’re preparing students for the future. And what better opportunity do we have for schools to prepare kids for the future?” she said of the bill. “And that’s why I think we need to have a standalone class, so that we can teach all these different elements and prepare kids — regardless if they are going into work, getting a credential or going to college — every single person needs all these items.”
Bill author Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendelton, noted that a provision in the bill would allow the personal finance course, if taken as a standalone class, to qualify as a mathematics credit for alternative high school diplomas.
But Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said he thinks school districts should be allowed to decide how to implement the curriculum.
“I think we want to give some latitude, some freedom, to the local school districts to design a program that’s responding to our legislation, and it’s not necessary for us to have a separate course,” he said.
Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, cautioned too that “kids already struggle to get through their schedules right now, and to get all the requirements that we keep putting on them.”
“I just worry about the requirement — making it just another mandate without removing anything at all,” she said.
Lawmakers have previously pointed to “concerning” statistics that show a lack of financial literacy in Indiana, including data showing that 87% of teenagers in the United States have admitted to not understanding their finances. Additionally, 74% of teenagers don’t feel confident in their financial knowledge.
Representatives from the Indiana Association of School Principals, the Indiana Credit Union League, the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development, the Indiana Bankers Association and the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association and others indicated they supported the bill as it is.
Discussions continue on health care proposal
A health care cost savings bill also underwent another transformation Wednesday, the latest in a long line of amendments to a bill filed to tackle high health care costs and inaccessibility in Indiana.
“The whole point of this was to make it a little bit easier to access health care,” author Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, said Wednesday.
The bill still includes language that would allow for provisional credentialing, which allows a health care practitioner to begin working and get paid sooner. Initially, it would have barred insurers from requiring prior authorization for a series of select procedures and prescriptions but that language was scaled down to a pilot for state employees.
A House amendment added a requirement for insurers to cover wearable cardioverter defibrillators. However, lawmakers opted on Wednesday to exempt Medicaid, which eliminated the bill’s fiscal. Brown said she believed Medicaid already covered the device.
Rep. Joanna King, R-Middlebury, thanked Brown for introducing the bill, which King sponsored on the House side.
“I think that this is a good start to doing a deep dive and providing better health care costs for Hoosiers and that’s what this bill is all about,” King said. I think for my caucus, one of the most important components was the prior authorization… (making) that even bigger with a broader scope – maybe in the next session – I think that would be something we should be able to do.”
Indiana Capital Chronicle reporter Whitney Downard contributed reporting.
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