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This article underwritten by: Renetta DuBose

Indiana Black Legislative Caucus Talks Education, Healthcare and Jobs, Part I

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Local economic, education and health leaders discussed pertinent issues affecting Hoosiers with the state legislature’s African-American delegation.  The Indiana Black Legislative Causus’ 16th Annual Legislative Symposium focused on education, healthcare and jobs for all.

“Our voices represent the concerns and hopes of citizens we serve.  Since 1979, the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus has generated positive discussions about often difficult subjects on the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives and the Indiana Senate,” said Senator Lonnie Randolph, Chairman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

The symposium opened with greetings from local leaders, followed by breakout sessions to explore the tri-fold theme in depth.  Gary mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson reminded legislators that their appropriation of 48 million dollars for a building in the University Park area, situated around Indiana University Northwest in Gary’s Glen Park neighborhood, will improve the city’s economic situation.

“With that building as the anchor, we’ll be able to develop up and down Broadway so that when you come, you’ll have the opportunity to grab something at Panera Bread or some of the other establishments that you’ll see,” said Mayor Freeman-Wilson.

Indiana Democratic Party Chair John Zody told the group the issues discussed at the symposium are vital because they affect all Hoosiers.

“These opportunities really gives us the chance to come together, learn from each other, discuss different things from different areas of the state, different ideas so that we can all work together to make the state better,” said Zody.

The session kicked off with an address by former Merrillville Community School Corp. superintendent Tony Lux on the state of education in Indiana.  Lux, an educator with 40 years of experience in public and private schools, discussed the reasons why many students miss the mark set by the state.

“Of course the state wants to brag about high standards, high standards of living with low costs.  High standards that include accountability for maintaining top level schools.  The use of tough teacher evaluations and A-F grading system are evidence that is put out there for those high standards.  But if the criterion for awarding school grades is so complicated that schools end up being unfairly graded, with disproportionally large numbers of low scores, the state ends up inappropriately making itself look bad and unattractive to new business,” said Lux.

Lux pointed to the shift in population at his former district, one that was 95 percent Caucasian and wealthy at the start of his career to a community that is now 80 percent minority with 60 percent of the students on free and reduced lunch.

“We have about 20 to 25 percent of our kids in Merrillville that did not have access to technology, the Internet, in their home.  Now, you compare that in any high wealth community where they’re growing up at ages one and two with Internet access, great technology and that’s happening everyday from that point on through high school compared to kids that don’t have that access,” said Lux.

Lux told those in attendance that students in poverty stricken homes can fall short of the goals the state sets for student achievement.  Those goals include mastering standardized tests, reading and performing basic math skills at or higher than grade level and higher graduation rates.  While cultural and academic opportunities are less available in disadvantaged homes, Lux said wealthy homes are not absent the emotional problems that can also cause problems in the classroom.  As for the solution, he said charter schools are not the answer because research from those institutions consistently shows that they are not any better and are perhaps worse than public schools.

“By simply creating an open air market with a flood of unregulated schools is actually an inefficient and cost ineffective strategy that ultimately will not result in reducing the significant percentage of students that are below grade level,” said Lux.

Lux said the state often looks to Florida’s education system as a model for Hoosier students, but he said Indiana students already outperform Floridians.

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