Improving educational outcomes is the primary focus this year for the Statehouse organization advocating for African American Hoosiers in the Indiana House and Senate.

State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, chairman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, announced Monday that the group's 15 state legislators are working to enact legislation aimed at closing the minority student achievement gap.

"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. 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," Harris said.

To that end, IBLC members have filed House Bill 1449, automatically enrolling eligible students in Indiana's 21st Century Scholars program for postsecondary education; House Bill 1571, providing state grants to reading teachers; and House Bill 1153, establishing a division of the Department of Education to evaluate cultural competency at Indiana public schools.

"Emphasizing the importance of educational achievement will not just help our kids in the classroom but will open doors for them professionally as well. When Indiana's workforce is more educated and highly trained, all Hoosiers benefit," Harris said.

"These bills — along with others filed by the IBLC — prioritize the needs of students, their families and their teachers to ensure everyone has the tools they need to be successful," he added.

Other items on the IBLC agenda include Senate Bill 150, increasing the state tax credit for school supplies purchased by teachers; House Bill 1138, mandating lead testing of drinking water at preschools and child care centers; and House Bill 1268, encouraging seat belt use on school buses.

The IBLC also is championing in House Bill 1491 the reestablishment of a locally elected board of trustees for the formerly cash-strapped Gary Community School Corp.

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