SB 223 – High School Graduation Requirement
Authored by Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg)
Co-authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) and Sen. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend)

The bill would require Indiana high school seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) unless: 1) the student’s parent signs a waiver that the student understands what the FAFSA is and declines to complete it; or 2) the student’s principal waives the requirement due to extenuating circumstances.

Chamber position: Support

The latest: Passed by the Senate Education Committee this week with bipartisan support on a vote of11-1. The bill now moves on to be considered by the full Senate.

Senate Bill 223 received strong backing during public testimony to the Senate Education Committee last week by the Indiana Chamber and other advocates from the business, higher education and nonprofit communities who see the student-friendly legislation as both an equity and economic growth driver. Opposition to the bill came from education associations representing school principals and school boards which, despite acknowledging the benefits for students, lamented that it could place too much of an administrative burden on local schools. Members of the Senate Education Committee from both parties ultimately sided with the Chamber’s perspective, albeit with an amendment offered by Sen. Victoria Spartz (R-Noblesville) – the only committee member to vote against SB 223 – that excludes non-public schools that do not receive state voucher funds from participating. (Ironically, Indiana’s non-public high schools are among the highest FAFSA-filing schools in the state.)

Indiana Chamber action/commentary: The bill’s intent is to increase student awareness and access to grants and scholarships that can help Hoosiers earn industry-recognized credentials and degrees with reduced or no debt. Completing the FAFSA qualifies students for a variety of need- and merit-based aid programs available from the state and federal government, colleges, community foundations and other sources. For many students, particularly those from low- and middle-income families, the decision to continue their education beyond high school is often based on whether they think they can afford it. State data show students from these backgrounds are the least likely file the FAFSA, either due to a lack of understanding on how to navigate the process or misconceptions about their aid eligibility.

The move to require Indiana high school seniors to complete the FAFSA – with flexible opt-out options – is modeled after a policy first adopted by Louisiana and subsequently embraced by a growing number of other states. Since introducing its FAFSA requirement in 2017, Louisiana has become the national leader in FAFSA completion with an annual filing rate that increased above 80% while also seeing a boost in both high school graduation and college-going rates. In contrast, Indiana – despite being one of the most generous need-based financial aid states in the U.S. – currently lags behind its Midwestern peers with a FAFSA filing rate below 60%, ranking 34th among all states.

Indiana’s workforce is increasingly dependent on individuals with postsecondary skills and credentials. In fact, 99% of jobs created in the U.S. since the last recession have required at least some education and training beyond high school.

At minimum, every Indiana high school graduate today is eligible for a tuition-free certificate in high-wage, high-demand industry sectors through the state’s Next Level Jobs program. This bill ensures that Hoosier students don’t inadvertently leave opportunity on the table while also helping to grow Indiana’s talent pipeline of highly skilled workers. As Governor Holcomb said this month in his State of the State remarks, increasing education attainment in Indiana is a “game-changer for addressing income inequality, upward mobility and economic growth.”

These reasons underscore why SB 223 is a priority bill for the Chamber this session, and we will continue to advocate strongly for its passage as it moves through the legislative process.

Resource: Jason Bearce at (317) 264-6880 or email: [email protected]