Report calls on Indiana state leaders to address racial education achievement gaps
A new report from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation lays out recommendations it feels the state should take to help reduce the racial education achievement gaps seen in Marion County schools or risk hurting Indianapolis' students and its economy.
Racial achievement gap issues have been a historic problem throughout Indiana and U.S. schools, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have made them even worse.
In Marion County, the Washington Township school district has the largest achievement gap out of the county’s 11 school districts, with some results showing a 46.8% gap in achievement between students of color and white students, according to the state’s most recent ILEARN results.
But groups like the Fairbanks Foundation, which is a private charitable foundation aimed at supporting the success of Indianapolis and its citizens, are urging state leaders to take action on policies that perpetuate racial achievement gaps.
More on achievement gaps: Why Washington Township school district has the largest achievement gap in Marion County
Claire Fiddian-Green, president and chief executive officer of the Fairbanks Foundation, told IndyStar she believes the state of education is at a crisis level.
“If we really want to ensure that every child in our community and in our state has a great education so they can earn a livable wage and contribute to our society,” Fiddian-Green said, “then we really need to act now to address these gaps.”
The report lays out five main ways to help reduce racial disparities in education:Improving childhood education.Closing equity gaps in K-12 education funding.Closing K-12 academic achievement gaps.Improving college readiness and increasing enrollment.Increasing college completion rates.
The report also lists 10 actionable policy recommendations that range from requiring early learning providers to enroll in the state’s Paths to Quality rating system, to requiring FAFSA completion as a high school graduation requirement.
The report suggests also making changes to the school funding formula, which currently gives the same base amount to every school, and to differentiate state aid funding instead upon the district’s ability to collect additional local tax revenue.
Lower-income communities are not able to collect as much tax revenue as higher-income communities, and the report specifically mentions charter schools as well, which do not receive any local tax revenue under Indiana’s funding policy.
Fiddian-Green pointed out that Marion County’s charter schools mostly serve students of color, and so the funding formula, by leaving out local tax dollars for charter schools is another way of perpetuating racial education inequalities.
More:Indiana’s NAEP scores show biggest decline in math as leaders weigh COVID’s fallout
The upcoming legislative session beginning in January will tackle the state’s budget and some state lawmakers have already said they want to make changes to the state’s complexity index, which determines how much additional funding a school gets based on how many at-risk students it has.
Due to changes made by the legislature in how the state qualifies those who fall under the complexity index, funding for the state’s poorest schools has continued to drop while its richest schools made gains.
Major Marion County groups like the Indy Chamber and the Indianapolis Urban League are supportive of the measures mentioned in the report and agree that addressing racial inequities in education needs to happen to support Marion County’s success overall.
Taylor Hughes, vice president of policy and strategy at the Indy Chamber, said he sees reports like this one as another example of why addressing educational inequities will help improve Indianapolis’ business environment.
“There's obviously a moral obligation to develop strategies to be supportive of these kids and their opportunities,” Hughes said. “There's also an economic imperative that if the Indy region can't figure out ways to address some of these racial inequities, that's a major competitive disadvantage.”
Indianapolis:Here are all the Marion County school districts ranked based on achievement gaps
Mark Russell, director of advocacy and family services at the Indianapolis Urban League, said not acting on the suggestions laid out in the report would be disastrous for many families in Indianapolis, but especially for families of color.
“We've got to get off of the excuses game and get into doing something about it,” Russell said. “If you're really driven towards solutions, and you want to address this pressing issue in our state, in our economy and in our socio-economic conditions across the board, it mandates a new approach to education."
"Status quo would spell disaster for the state,” Russell said.
Contact IndyStar reporter Caroline Beck at 317-618-5807 or CBeck@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarolineB_Indy.
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