Addressing Indiana’s racial achievement gap vital for state’s economy

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Black and Hispanic students in Indiana and Marion County are falling further behind their white peers on key academic measures, from state tests to college-preparatory exams and enrollment in post-high school education. We must take swift action to address these disparate outcomes, or risk depriving too many black and Hispanic Hoosiers of the many benefits a high-quality education provides, from earning a living wage to accessing quality health care benefits and services.

This educational gap also threatens the economic and social life of our city and state. A newly released Indiana Chamber survey shows, for example, that nearly three out of four employers left jobs unfilled in the past year because they couldn’t find workers with the knowledge and skills needed to fill open positions.

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Numerous data points highlight racial disparities in educational outcomes—ones that existed long before the pandemic and have worsened over the past several years. White students in Marion County are nearly four times more likely to be proficient in math than black and Hispanic students, according to 2022 SAT results. Additionally, Black and Hispanic high school graduates in Marion County are less likely than their peers to complete college within six years. Newly released data provided by the Fairbanks Foundation’s Community Data Snapshot also offers the first look at college-going rates across Marion County, showing that 56% of white Marion County high school graduates went on to college in 2020, compared to just 44% of black students. and 38% of Hispanic students.

It is clear that factors such as poverty contribute to these results, but another key driver is unequal access to high-performing schools, which are located in predominantly white neighborhoods. About 70% of black and Hispanic students in Marion County attend low-performing schools, compared to 36% of white students.

More:Here are all the Marion County school districts ranked by achievement gap

What’s more, per-pupil funding for students from low-income families and English language learners — which is used to hire and retain high-quality teachers and provide needed support for at-risk student populations, including translation services — to address the complexities is insufficient for A need facing today’s students and their families.

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The research points to steps we can take to ensure all Marion County students receive a high-quality education.

Improving early childhood education

High quality early education programs set children up for future success. But preliminary evidence shows that black and Hispanic children in Indiana attend lower-quality early education programs than white children.

To address this, Indiana should mandate that all early childhood providers enroll in the state’s Path to Quality rating system, which incentivizes providers to improve their programming and is currently optional.

Rethink K-12 Funding

Changes to the state’s school funding formula widened the gap between the wealthiest and poorest districts and the amount of money schools received by 15% from 2009 to 2019. Additionally, per-pupil funding for students from low-income families dropped by 35%. 2015 and 2019, and public charter schools, which serve primarily black and Hispanic students, receive less funding per student than district schools.

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To help close the funding gap, Indiana should differentiate state aid based on local assets and increase per-pupil funding levels for students from low-income families as well as English language learners.

Increase college enrollment and completion rates

Black and Hispanic students enroll in college and complete degrees at lower rates than their white peers.

To put education after high school within reach — and make the cost manageable — Indiana will require completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a prerequisite for graduating high school. Louisiana did just that, and it led the Louisiana Class of 2018 to achieve the highest college admissions rate in state history. Any mandate should be accompanied by broad community-based support to help students and families complete the FAFSA.

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Closing the gap in academic outcomes between white and black and Hispanic students is critical. The action steps are clear. We must take them now, or risk setting back generations to come.

Claire Fidien-Green Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks is president and CEO of the foundation.

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