Indiana has so many school districts, even in sparsely populated counties, that lawmakers looking to save state dollars today discussed a proposal for grants to promote broader cost-sharing across district lines.

The idea is potentially more palatable than consolidation, an emotionally fraught process that inflames passionate efforts to save small schools from being closed down.

House Bill 1100, authored by Rep. Randall Frye, R-Greensburg, would create a fund of up to $10 million that could award grants as large as $500,000 to school districts seeking support for a move toward consolidated services.

In all, Indiana has 289 school districts for about 1 million schoolchildren.

Frye gave the example of Ripley County, home to 28,000 Hoosiers and three school districts in the state’s Southeast corner. Frye said schools in a place like Ripley County might look at consolidating bus service, for example. The grant would help devise such a shared system.

Frye said other services he could imagine school districts sharing include food service and fuel buying.

The bill passed the House Education Committee 12-0 and now moves to the full House for a vote as early as next week. Other bills passed by the committee today include:

  • Transfers for school employees. House Bill 1054 requires school districts that have space to permit the children of their employees who live outside the school district to transfer into the district’s schools. The bill applies even to districts that have policies against transfers. The bill also requires districts to accept transfers for children who attend private schools within their boundaries but live in a different school district, again if they have space available. Districts with more transfer requests than seats would be required to hold lotteries to determine who gets the available spaces.
  • Cooperative education pilot program. House Bill 1056 would offer grants to Indiana’s four research universities to encourage cooperative education programs with employers.