Latino Groups Call for Changes in School Aid – WISH-TV | Indianapolis News | Indiana weather

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Members of a major Latino advocacy group said Thursday lawmakers must act quickly to close a glaring benefit gap.

The Indiana Latino Institute said it will urge lawmakers to legalize state education for undocumented immigrants. Indiana is one of three states with laws that specifically prohibit undocumented immigrants from paying state fees for higher education.

ILI Board Member Oscar Gutierrez says there is no point in discriminating against students who were born outside the US but grew up in Indiana.

“If you have students who went through K-12, it was an investment by the state in those students and then denying them to go any further, that creates the brain drain that we face in the state today,” he said.

The ILI’s proposals come less than a week before state legislators gather for the organizing day ahead of the next legislative session. Lawmakers will begin drafting the state’s next biennial budget in January. Aside from the tuition issue, ILI members said they will press lawmakers to automatically enroll all students who receive free or discounted lunches in the 21st Century Scholars program. They also want lawmakers to adjust the Complexity Index, the formula that helps the state calculate how much money a given school corporation will receive to increase funding for programs aimed at English learners.

Josh Garrison of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education said only 40% of Indiana Latinos who graduated high school in 2020 have enrolled in any form of post-secondary education, including college and technical school. For comparison, the national average is 53%, itself the lowest level in a generation. Garrison said only 15% of eligible Latino students enroll in the program, a number he attributed in part to a lack of awareness of the program.

ILI Director of Education Policy, Rachel Santos, says Latinos represent Indiana’s fastest-growing student population. She said a series of town halls over the summer showed that the most common obstacles Latinos cite are lack of access to affordable higher education and insufficient native language resources.

“We really have to ask ourselves, if we continue to let down the student population, what does Indiana’s future hold?” she said.

The leadership of the Republican House of Representatives and Indiana Senate did not respond to requests for comment.