Black legislators’ top priorities include auto-enrollment in state college tuition program

Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, is replacing Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, as chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus. (Photos courtesy of the Indiana House of Representatives)

One of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus’ top priorities, the automatic enrollment of eligible students into the state’s 21st Century Scholars program, might be able to navigate the Legislature’s Republican supermajority due to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s backing.

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus’ 2023 legislative priorities seek in part to close the education gap between white students and students of color. The IBLC is made up of Black House and Senate legislators who happen to all be Democrats, although the caucus would not exclude Republicans.

At the top of their agenda for 2023 is auto-enrollment in the 21st Century Scholars program. The program helps cover costs for eligible Indiana students at state universities and colleges, up to full tuition.

At a press conference Monday, IBLC Chair Rep. Earl Harris, D-Gary, said that despite being more likely to live in poverty, Black students and students of color are not proportionately represented in the program. 

According to not-for-profit education news site Chalkbeat Indiana, four in 10 Indiana students are eligible for the program, but only half apply. Harris said that he recommends the program to his constituents, but often the deadline has already passed by the time parents begin thinking about college.

“The parent doesn’t know about it, the child doesn’t know about it,” Harris said. “And by the time we talk about it, it’s too late.”

On the House side, Harris has filed House Bill 1449. A sister bill will be carried by Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, as Senate Bill 435.

The push for auto-enrollment is gaining momentum outside of the IBLC as a Holcomb priority and with two Republican-authored bills for the same purpose.

Other education initiatives highlighted by the caucus Monday included House Bill 1571, which creates a fund for teachers to seek additional training around reading, and House Bill 1153, which establishes a division of the Indiana Department of Education to assess cultural competency requirements and evaluate teaching school methods. The bills are by Indianapolis Reps. Robin Shackleford and Greg Porter, respectively.

Bills by the caucus increasing the tax credit for classroom supply spending, defining an age for compulsory school attendance, requiring schools to provide universal free school meals, requiring drinking water testing and creating a minority healthcare scholarship program also seek to lessen the achievement gap.

Outside of education, the caucus is seeking intervention from the state attorney general in cases of discriminatory home appraisals, an expansion of the “bias crimes” definition to include gender-related crimes, implicit bias training in medical schools and changes to how domestic violence reports are handled.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

6 thoughts on “Black legislators’ top priorities include auto-enrollment in state college tuition program

  1. A perfect approach to a nagging problem. But it still does not go far enough to improve the educational opportunities for our children. Indiana should make state-owned community colleges free to all high school graduates regardless of GPA. Doing this would bring into the 21st century the historic promise found in the 1816 state constitution which set an idealistic goal to establish a “general system of education … wherein tuition shall be gratis, and equally open to all.”

    1. but then we could only brag about 94.5% of the current budget surplus!

      God forbid we invest in our children instead of sending everyone a meaningless $100 check

    2. It wouldn’t even need to come at great taxpayer expense. Done right, it could save taxpayers. Un-subsidized Ivy Tech tuition is ~$9000. It’s less than what many school districts pay per high school student. After 10th grade, why not send numerate and literate students straight to Ivy Tech?

  2. Why would we spend money on a “student” with a failing GPA? Shouldn’t there be some sort of indication the money would not be wasted? I’m not talking about eliminating even C- students. I just think throwing money in a pit is not the answer to education.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}