INDIANAPOLIS — The No. 1 priority was easy for Republicans in the Indiana House.
They passed House Bill 1001 which gives a funding boost, limited to $25 million this year, to more than cover an unanticipated $11.8 million shortfall in K-12 funding due to an increase in public school enrollment.
The Indiana General Assembly hit its halfway point this week for a session scheduled to end in mid-March.
Amid discussions of the Sunday sales of alcohol, which is moving toward the House, and a bias crimes bill, which died in the Senate, the topic atop the Republican list now is workforce development.
The state spends $1 billion on 30 workforce programs.
It's often considered an unwieldy mix, involving nine state agencies, with training Hoosiers, attracting jobs and monitoring existing grant programs. That includes the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Indiana Department of Education, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which can offer tax incentives to employers.
The agencies' work likely won't be consolidated into one agency under the Republican plan but might be placed under one director, said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. "They do need to have a coordinated effort."
House Bill 1002, authored by Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, passed out of the House 70-24 on Monday.
The bill requires the Indiana Legislative Services Agency to review training programs. Among numerous provisions, the bill sets up the Employer Workforce Training Grant Fund to provide grants to employers for training programs. The funds would be earmarked for employees to obtain a work-related degree, certification or credentials.
Some Democrats, such as Rep. Edward Delaney, D-Indianapolis, are concerned that corporate income tax will become a dedicated fund for training for the same corporations paying the tax. He called it a corporate self-support tax.
"This is the most amazing tax policy change I've seen since I've been here," Delaney said. "And I hope that some day I'll be able to observe all my personal income tax used for some cause I'm particularly committed to."
Huston said the changes assure that funds will be available for worker training.
Bosma said the issue boiled down to whether the state or an employer should decide what training programs apply to a business.
In one measure, the bill would allow business to contact high school students much as a college athletic recruiter approaches a student for a scholarship. Students could opt into a program allowing employer contact.
The provision would "give those students who are on a career path an opportunity to hear what's out there and find out what they need," Bosma said.
"So I think connecting our secondary schools with employers for that portion of the student population that's not going to go to college immediately, I think that's a great idea," Bosma said.