Black and Hispanic students in Indiana and Marion County continue to fall behind their white peers on key academic measures, from state tests to college readiness tests to enrollment in post-high school education. We must act quickly to address these disparate outcomes or risk too many Black and Hispanic Hoosiers missing out on the many benefits that a quality education brings, from earning family-sustaining wages to accessing quality healthcare benefits and services.
These gaps in education also threaten the economic and social viability of our city and country. For example, a recent survey by the Indiana Chamber shows that nearly three out of four employers have left vacancies in the last year because they could not find workers with the skills and knowledge to fill the vacancies.
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Myriad data points highlight racial disparities in academic outcomes — which existed long before the pandemic and have worsened in recent years. According to the 2022 SAT results, white students in Marion County are about four times as likely to be proficient in math as black and Hispanic students. Additionally, black and Hispanic high school graduates in Marion County are less likely than their peers to graduate college within six years. Newly released data, provided through the Fairbanks Foundation’s Community Data Snapshot, also provides a first look at college enrollment rates in Marion County, showing that 56% of Marion County’s white high school graduates went to college in 2020, compared to just 44% of black students and 38% of Hispanic students.
It’s clear that factors like poverty contribute to these results, but another important factor is unequal access to high-performing schools, which are mostly located in white neighborhoods. About 70% of black and Hispanic students in Marion County attend low-performing schools, compared to 36% of white students.
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Additionally, per-student funding for students from low-income households and English learners – which is used to hire and retain highly qualified teachers and provide necessary support to vulnerable groups of students, including translation services – is insufficient to meet the complex needs of today students and their families.
Research points to actionable steps we can take to ensure all Marion County students receive a quality education.
Improving early childhood education
Quality early childhood learning programs prepare children for future success. But early evidence shows that black and Hispanic children in Indiana attend lower quality early childhood education programs compared to white children.
To address this, Indiana should require all early childhood care providers to enroll in the state’s Paths to Quality rating system, which incentivizes providers to improve their programs and is currently optional.
Reconsider K-12 funding
Changes in the state school funding formula widened the gap between the amount of money the richest and poorest counties and schools receive by 15% from 2009 to 2019. Additionally, per-student funding for students from low-income households fell by 35% between 2015 and 2019, and public charter schools, which serve mostly black and Hispanic students, receive less funding per student than district schools.
To close funding gaps, Indiana should differentiate state aid based on local wealth and increase per-student funding levels for students from low-income households and English language learners.
Increase college enrollment and graduation rates
Black and Hispanic students enroll in college and graduate at lower rates than their white counterparts.
To make post-high school education within reach—and keep costs manageable—Indiana should require completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a requirement for graduating from high school. Louisiana did just that, and it resulted in the Louisiana class of 2018 achieving the highest college enrollment rate in state history. Each mandate should be accompanied by extensive community-based support for students and families to help them complete FAFSA.
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Closing gaps in educational outcomes between white and black and Hispanic students is critical. The steps to take are clear. We must take it now or risk setting back generations to come.
Claire Fiddian-Green is President and CEO of the Indianapolis-based Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.