Members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus met early Monday morning to announce their 2023 legislative agenda.
Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, introduced bills authored by him and other members, many focused on closing gaps in education and socioeconomic status.
House Bill 1449, authored by Harris, and Senate Bill 435, authored by Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, both aim for automatic enrollment in Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program.
Automatic enrollment eliminates the issue of eligible students missing the enrollment deadline, which is currently set as June 30 of the eligible student’s eighth-grade year, according to learnmoreindiana.org. Indiana’s Promise: A Report on the 21st Century Scholars program states that only around half of eligible students enroll each year.
“Despite being more likely to live in poverty, however, African American students and students of color are not proportionally represented in the program,” said Harris.
The IBLC emphasized that student success is also based on the success of their educators.
“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.
One way the IBLC is working to do this is by providing more funding opportunities for teachers. Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, is the author of House Bill 1571. This bill aims to create a grant for educators who wish to become reading specialists.
“The achievement gap between African American students and their non-Black peers has been a problem in Indiana for generations, but was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harris said in a press release after the event. “Now, we are challenged to not just bring African American students and students of color back to the level they were academically pre-pandemic, but to help elevate them to the same level as their white peers”
He continued: “When Indiana’s workforce is more educated and highly trained, all Hoosiers benefit.”
The IBLC also discussed the group’s relationship with Republicans and other issues that have their focus, including housing, health care and ensuring equality within Indiana legislation.
For example, Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond, noted that IBLC members will push for equal business opportunities if there is legalization of marijuana in Indiana.
Harris emphasized that their agenda is set to provide support and opportunities for all Indiana residents.
“We will continue to push those items on our agenda to see how they play,” he said.
According to the IBLC webpage, there are currently 10 Indiana House representatives and five Indiana senators on the IBLC. The group describes itself as working together to create policy and pass laws to positively impact Hoosiers, especially those in minority communities.
Kyra Howard is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.