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INDIANAPOLIS — Despite Indiana’s major financial hit due to COVID-19, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb said K-12 education will be “spared the knife” when it comes to budget cuts.

In fact, he says they’ve agreed on a $183 million increase next year. Students will be funded 100% despite being online due to pandemic.

“We’ll be moving forward with the current budget,” said Holcomb. “This was a collaborative effort that took weeks to put together.”

The governor was joined by other state officials in Wednesday’s briefing, including State Health Commissioner Kristina Box, Office of Management and Budget Director Cris Johnston, Paul Halverson, professor and founding dean at the Fairbanks School of Public Health and Nir Menachemi, chair of health policy and management at the Fairbanks School of Public Health.

Dr. Box reported the state’s coronavirus numbers including 264 new coronavirus cases and 24 new deaths, bringing the totals to 41,013 and 2,289 respectively. 

Box said Indiana will report 3,000-5,000 additional negative tests tomorrow. She explained the numbers are catching up from a lab whose negative tests weren’t going into the system until now. Their positive tests have been recorded accurately.

Box also reported Indiana has over 38% of ICU beds available and over 81% of ventilators ready for use.

According to Box, LaGrange and Elkhart counties will receive targeted testing due to a surge of cases, and these tests will focus on the Amish and Hispanic populations.

Dr. Menachemi with the Fairbanks School gave a report on Phase 2 of the school’s COVID-19 sample study. He said the virus has slowed its spread in our state, citing less active infections and positive antibodies in the second wave of the study.

Menachemi added that a likely reason for this slowing is due to our collective actions as Hoosiers in social distancing. “It’s important to note that we have not eliminated the risk,” he said. “It’s a good reminder of our shared responsibility to keep COVID-19 contained.”

When asked about schools reopening and the need to wear masks in the classroom, Box said there is a real need for kids in schools to wear masks when they are in large groups. 

She said when students are quiet, at their desks and facing forward the need to wear a mask is less important; however, at recess, on the way to the bus, and other cases when they are moving in large groups, a mask remains necessary.

“Students go to school so they don’t have to social distance. It will be a big change for them and it will be difficult,” Box said.

The majority of Indiana is currently in Stage 4 of the governor’s reopening plan, with Marion County set to enter Stage 4 on Friday. 

Stage 4 of the reopening plan means places like bars and entertainment venues can welcome customers back at 50% capacity; zoos, museums and other sites may open; movie theaters and bowling alleys can open at 50% capacity; restaurants can open to 75% capacity; and gatherings of up to 250 people are allowed as long as everyone stays six feet apart.

Earlier this week, all OptumServe testing sites were fully opened to any and all Hoosiers wanting to be tested, including those under 12 years old. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles also returned to normal operating hours this week, but driving exams won’t continue until early July.

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson provided the following statement on Governor Holcomb’s announcement:

“Indianapolis Public Schools is very pleased the state has decided to hold to its commitment to move forward with its planned budget for K–12 education in the new fiscal year and not make funding cuts at such a critical time. This announcement and certainty in funding will be instrumental as we plan for new health and safety protocols due to COVID-19. We hope lawmakers will keep the same energy moving forward and work toward an equitable budget framework for all school districts.”

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson