Indiana is hailed as a ‘State that Works,” but unfortunately that isn’t the case for all Hoosiers—a fact that Indiana Senate Democrats have highlighted in the past. The reality is that Indiana still has work to do to ensure that individuals from diverse communities are receiving the opportunities and support needed for success. This Black History Month, we would like to highlight steps Indiana can take to better serve black Hoosiers and support Indiana’s black population.

Better funding for public education

It’s no secret that Indiana’s public school funding has lagged behind the rest of the nation in recent years. Regrettably, poor funding for our public education system has a negative impact on black Hoosier students who accounted for 12.5% of public education enrollment in Indiana in the 2012-2013 school year. The National Education Association reported that in both the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years Indiana ranked 47th in the nation for the amount of money spent on each public school student. When public schools are underfunded, they forgo necessary tools and resources, which results in schools struggling to provide students with the support they need Increasing funding for schools as well as increasing teacher pay will ensure that Hoosier students receive a higher quality of education from public schools. One major way that Indiana must step up to serve our black communities is to support public schools by providing them with the funds and support they need to be successful. Indiana Senate Democrats have remained a fierce proponent for our public schools and will continue to push for increased funding.

Provide funding for doulas

The CDC reported that for 2013-2015 the black infant mortality rate in Indiana was 13.26 deaths per 1000 live births, a number that is significantly higher than the national rate of 11.1. The infant mortality rate for the entire population in Indiana for 2013-2015 was 6.37 deaths per 1000 live births. One initiative that could help reduce the black infant mortality rate is providing better funding for doulas so they are more accessible to all pregnant women. Doulas are trained professionals who assist pregnant women before, during, and after birth. Typically, they provide longer and more intensive care to new mothers than hospitals, lessening the risk of a new infant dying. In the 2019 session, State Senator Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) introduced Senate Bill 416 to provide Medicaid coverage for doulas. The bill was signed into law, already taking us a step towards reducing Indiana’s black infant mortality rate.

Reforming marijuana laws that overwhelmingly target minorities

It’s no secret that minority communities are more likely to be disproportionately affected by Indiana’s outdated marijuana laws. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black Hoosiers are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Hoosiers even though white people use marijuana at a higher rate than black people. Decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana would result in less jail time for a minor offense that is already legal in several states. State Senator Karen Tallian (D-Ogden Dunes) has introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana for several years in an effort to slow down Indiana’s growing prison system. Decreasing the number of people being sent to jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana would certainly be a win for black Hoosiers, given the egregious racial disparities that exist in marijuana arrests and convictions.

More accessible resources for opioid addiction

Between 2013 and 2017 opioid related deaths among black Hoosiers rose from 3.05 deaths to 18.62 deaths per 100,000 people. Lawmakers took note of Indiana’s growing opioid crisis in the 2019 Legislative Session and passed several bills aimed at providing or extending programs for fighting opioid addiction. However, Indiana’s black population has continues to go overlooked when it comes to the opioid crisis. Legislation passed last year only guaranteed programs in Allen, Tippecanoe, Marion and Wayne Counties. Opioid treatment centers or programs are not present in every community across the state, and they are less likely to be present in communities where opioids are a bigger problem. When treatment options are not accessible to all Hoosiers, they fail to receive the same opportunities to receive the support they need to be able to stop using opioids. We must continue to pass legislation that addresses Indiana’s opioid epidemic and ensure that black Hoosiers affected by the opioid crisis are not being ignored or forgotten.

Indiana is home to a diverse population of Hoosiers from all backgrounds, and it’s important that our state continues making strides to uplift everyone. Indiana has already made some progress by working to pass lead testing of school drinking water in Indiana, ensuring that minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses can receive contracts, and rehabilitating the Gary Community School Corporation. Your Indiana Senate Democrats will continue to fight on these issues and more to serve and support black Hoosiers.