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Thursday, February 9, 2023

IBLC legislative agenda emphasizes education, support for students of color

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The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus announced its 2023 legislative agenda, which focuses on closing the education achievement gap and providing additional support to students and teachers.

IBLC Chair Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, detailed the agenda during a press conference Jan. 23 at the Statehouse. The agenda includes three House bills and two Senate bills.

“Now we are challenged to not only bring African American students and students of color back to the level that they were pre-pandemic but also elevate them to the level as white peers,” Harris said at the conference, “emphasizing the importance of educational achievement while not just helping our kids in the classroom but opening doors for them professionally.”

Harris said several of the IBLC’s bills this session aim to improve schools throughout the state and create more pathways to higher education and post-secondary education career opportunities.

House Bill 1449, authored by Harris, and Senate Bill 435, authored by Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Indianapolis, are aimed at increasing enrollment into the state’s 21st Century Scholars Program, Harris said. HB 1449 would establish automatic enrollment for eligible students, while SB 439 ensures the Department of Education identifies income-eligible students.

“We also know that roughly 81% of students that go into the program enroll into college and university,” Harris said. “Despite being more likely to live in poverty, however, African American students and students of color are not proportionately represented in the program, so automatic enrollment will help.”

House Bill 1571, authored by Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, would create reading specialist certification grant funds, which would allow teachers to apply for a grant to earn a special reading certificate. Teachers could then receive salary incentives.

“Setting our students up for success means that the people that educate them need to be set up for success and be able to provide the best education possible,” Harris said.

House Bill 1153, authored by Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, would establish a division of educational opportunity and academic success to assess cultural competency in public schools. The division would be required to monitor school corporations and public schools regarding culturally competent practice and training in instruction.

“Every year colleges and universities will be assessed to determine how they prepare future educators to be able to effectively teach and communicate to children throughout multiple backgrounds,” Harris said.

Senate Bill 231, authored by Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, would allow eligible school corporations to participate in the federal Community Eligibility Provision program to provide universal free school breakfast and lunch. The program acts as an alternative to household eligibility applications for free and reduced-price lunches.

“We know that a hungry student is not going to be a successful student,” Harris said. “So, if our students have food on the plate, in their belly, they’ll be more likely to be able to focus and study and achieve when it comes to their education.”

Harris said the 2023 legislative agenda is a chance to leave behind a better community, state and nation by enhancing education in Indiana, working to close the achievement gap and ultimately boost the Indiana workforce by creating a better quality of life for everyone.

“By closing the achievement gap, we would also address issues pertaining to public health and public safety,” Harris said. “When people have the opportunity to go to college and obtain a high-wage job, they’re more likely to have success or adequate health care and healthy foods. Furthermore, when people’s needs are met, they’re less likely also to commit crime.”

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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