By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute 

Indiana Youth Institute’s legislative summary is a review of child-and youth-centered legislation passed and proposed during the State’s most recent legislative session. Because this was a budget year for the Indiana Legislature, we also highlight significant funding decisions affecting Indiana kids. 

Some of the major budget changes include:

1.) School funding increases of 2.5% for each of the next two years were passed, with an additional $539 million in base funding for K-12 education

2.) An additional $74 million for other education programs, like the Teacher Appreciation Grant program and the Secured School Safety Grant program 

3.) $20 million per year of new funding for the Next Level Jobs Employer Training Program, and 

4.) Department of Child Services receiving a $256 million budget increase in 2020 and $246 million in 2021. 

Some new laws aim to address family and community conditions. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 464, Homeless Youth, facilitates homeless youth access to government identification and education services through a designated representative other than a parent or guardian. House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1432, Parental Incarceration, stipulates that Department of Child Services case plans must consider incarcerated parents who have maintained a meaningful role in the child’s life, including but not limited to visitation.  

As noted above, education issues garnered significant attention, as lawmakers funded K-12 public education at the highest levels in over a decade. At the same time, many were disappointed that more was not done to close the State’s comparative gap in teacher compensation. Numerous education bills were passed including HEA 1628 which expands pre-K eligibility, while maintaining prior funding levels, to every Indiana county. Not surprisingly, several education bills, including but not limited to HEA 1004, HEA 1224, HEA 1398, HEA 1629, and SEA 002, addressed school safety issues. New this year, SEA 132, requires every high school to administer the naturalization exam for citizenship to students as part of the U.S. government course requirement. The bill also requires increased study of the Holocaust in a U.S history course.  

The State’s Department of Child Services (DCS) came under heavy scrutiny this session. In addition to the budget bill, SEA 1 and HEA 1006 cover several activities aimed at improving DCS operations including but not limited to setting new standards for timely responses, availability of telephone contacts, caseload limits, response requirements, and maximum age for collaborative care. The new legislation also includes a requirement that DCS report their progress to the general assembly before July 1, 2020.  

In juvenile justice legislation, proposed Senate Bill 279 would have allowed children as young as 12 to be waived into adult court after being charged with attempted murder. The bill met significant opposition, as the proposal runs contrary both to national trends and youth offender rehabilitation research.     

Two notable misses of this legislative session concerned addressing state smoking rates. With nearly 9 out of 10 smokers starting before age 18, and Indiana having one of the highest percentage of residents who smoke in the nation, nicotine use in all forms is a critical youth health issue that must be addressed by our state. This year, the Indiana Legislature failed to pass two bills – one to increase the state smoking age to 21, another to raise the Midwest’s lowest cigarette tax – which research shows would have had a significant impact on youth smoking rates. In addition, parents and schools continue to express frustration with rising vaping rates, and little was done this session to address this emerging public health issue.   

As we look to the summer study committees, we are monitoring the interim study committee on courts and the judiciary, focusing on reforms to laws and policies on the adjudication and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.Education interim study committees will address the impact and funding of school counseling programs while also looking at teacher pay 

We were encouraged by the many bills that were introduced and passed which aimed to increase child well-being in our state. At the same time, much work remains to move our state beyond our 29th place national ranking. Indiana Youth Institute will continue to provide data and research, collaborative conversations, and community convenings in our efforts to ensure that all Indiana children are safe, healthy and well educated.     

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached atiyi@iyi.orgor on Twitter at@Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, andcommunities that are focused on kids and youth.)