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Indiana education chair apologizes for 'hurtful' comments on African American students' test scores

Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said low test scores by African American students were due, in part, because of a lack of "respect for learning."
Credit: WTHR/Ryan Thedwall
Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, apologized Monday morning after receiving backlash for comments he made last week about the reasoning behind low test scores among African American students.

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana lawmaker apologized on the House floor Monday after receiving backlash for comments he made about low test scores by African American students.

Chair of the House Education committee Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the poor scores were due, in part, because of a lack of "respect for learning."

“I want to begin by sending an apology for any hurtful comments I might have said, I did say, last week in the education committee,” Behning said.

The move came after his comments to the Senate Education & Career Development committee last Wednesday resulted in pushback from local groups, including the College Democrats of Indiana and the Indianapolis Urban League.

"We don’t believe the apology is sufficient because it’s not grounded in action," Mark Russell, director of advocacy for the Indianapolis Urban League, told 13News in a phone interview.

Last Wednesday, while defending HB 1251, Behning said the bill would help focus state standards. He also included a statistic about only about 3% of African American students at Indianapolis Public Schools passed both sections of ILearn.

"I would suggest that part of the problem is, and there’s a number of things, poverty impacts that for sure, having respect for learning," Behning said. "All of, there’s a lot of things that come into play."

Russell said bringing up the statistic for shock value was inappropriate.

Behning provided the following statement to 13News: 

In my remarks last week during a Senate Education Committee hearing on how we can work together to improve education in Indiana, I mistakenly did not differentiate my comments about the alarmingly low passing rates among African American students at IPS and describing the broad factors that impact ALL students. I should have been clearer in stating what I truly believe to be the biggest obstacles to improving our children's academic performance. I sincerely regret my remarks have been hurtful to others, and I apologize for it. I've spent my career working to support and raise up all students, especially those who are most vulnerable. This is the belief that drives the work I do every day, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to do whatever we can to ensure all students have an opportunity to succeed.

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