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House To Daniels: You Can't Close Children's Home

Last updated on Thursday, February 19, 2009

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Legislators have begun an effort to force the Daniels Administration to keep the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home open.

A house committee has voted 9-2 to not only block the scheduled May shutdown of the Knightstown facility, but deny the executive branch the authority to close the home in the future. The Indiana State Department of Health says the facility has outlived its original mission, to serve the children of civil war veterans and casualties.

Commissioner Judith Monroe says enrollment has been sliding for 40 years, while costs per student have mounted. It now costs nearly $90,000 per student to run the home for about 120 students.

Rep. Scott Reske's (D-Pendleton) bill would seek to improve that ratio through an aggressive outreach to juvenile judges, state agencies and schools to consider Knightstown as a destination for at-risk students. The proposal requires the facility to increase its current enrollment by 80 students within two years, then add 100 students a year in each of the next three years.

If the facility missed those targets in any year, the legislature, not the governor, would be allowed to consider closing the home. The bill also shifts part of the funding responsibility for the home to the education budget, using the school funding formula to allocate state dollars. Reske says parents or courts could then pay room and board costs.

Indiana's Department of Education and Department of Child Services warns enrolling students considered higher risk will mean increased costs for counselors and other professionals with training in helping those students. Bob Marra with the Department of Education says the state reviewed possible partnerships with various agencies and private organizations before concluding it wasn't a workable option. More than 20 states opened homes for military children after the civil war. All but three of those facilities closed around 1900, and Indiana's is the last still in operation. The full house will vote on the bill next week.

House Democrats have already included the home's $10 million operating budget in their version of the budget, which also comes up for approval next week.

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