Black legislative caucus identifies priorities
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org September 6, 2013 9:24PM
Former Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux speaks on the importance of public education and how wealth disparities affect students. | Matt Mikus/Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 8, 2013 6:09AM
GARY — State legislators representing minority and urban communities gathered at Indiana University Northwest and asked stakeholders for feedback on ideas for the next legislative session.
The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus held its 16th annual legislative symposium Friday, with the theme, “The Critical Importance of Education, Healthcare and Jobs for All.”
The caucus offered breakout sessions focused on five issues that affect minorities: K-12 education, economic development, higher education, health and children’s issues.
A youth forum also provided students a chance to talk about college preparedness, job skills, internships, and how the legislative branch of government works.
After meeting with citizens and experts, legislators had a collection of ideas from which they could craft legislation.
In economic development, the caucus wants to focus on redefining contracts for minority-owned businesses. Money is designated for minority business owners to receive government work, but Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, said those contracts were passed out to other businesses.
“We want to bring more clarity to the statutes that exist, and how do we implement what we have on the books,” said Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago.
In child issues, caucus members pointed to promoting programs that preserve family stability and prevent child abuse through education and outreach.
Early childhood education, and preserving funding for kindergarten classes were high priorities that emerged from the K-12 education session. They also highlighted examining the zero-tolerance discipline policies, and making suspension policies more transparent for families.
Also, said Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, teachers and superintendents need to be involved early in policy discussion.
“We need to stop and take a look at what we’re doing in education today,” Rogers said.
Higher education policies include removing application fees for colleges, creating programs designed to guide sixth-graders toward college preparation and reducing the number of students who require remediation courses after high school.
Health issues the caucus will focus on include addressing a shortage of health care providers, especially general practice doctors, and restoring funding to a state nursing scholarship that was removed from the state budget.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, challenged the audience to encourage friends and family to call or write Gov. Mike Pence about leaving many citizens uninsured by not expanding Medicaid.
“Imagine what could happen if you got 10 people to make a call, and they each got 10 people to call,” Brown said.
City mayors were invited to comment at the symposium, including Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who praised the legislative caucus for representing urban areas like Northwest Indiana cities.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re not even in the same state with the policies that come out of Indianapolis,” McDermott said.
Discussions from keynote speakers focused on education and health reform.
Former Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux spoke on the importance of supporting public education, and understanding separate challenges caused by the rift between poor and wealthy families.
A constant flow of misinformation needs to be corrected on public schools, Lux said. He pointed to former state superintendent Tony Bennett, who stated that Lux claims the state must solve poverty to fix education, a claim Lux said was false.
“The point I was trying to make is the effects of poverty must be addressed by any school, public, private or charter, if we’re going to make the progress we’re trying to accomplish.”
Misinformation regarding low student performance, then blaming teachers as the sole variable, has to be reconsidered, Lux said. Other factors include school environment, home environment, parent involvement and the individual student.
Martha King of the National Conference of State Legislatures highlighted the Affordable Care Act, and said many aspects of the law will need to be considered by legislators.
King pointed to the lack of Medicaid expansion, but she said states do not have a deadline to expand coverage and are allowed to back out of the program.
Brown said an Affordable Care Act town hall meeting is scheduled for Gary on Oct. 2 at Ivy Tech Community College, organized by Lake County Minority Health Coalition and Indiana Minority Health Coalition.