As black lawmakers take on new leadership positions in an increasingly diverse state government, Wisconsin officials have joined Gov. Tony Evers in prioritizing closing the racial disparity gap in education.

Recently appointed chair of the state Legislature’s Black Caucus, Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, said they will be looking at disparity issues that an African American child would experience all the way from birth to when they graduate college.

“We want to make sure that we’re visible, and people understand that we’re going to be fighting for education tooth and nail,” Crowley said. “We’re not going to be afraid to talk about the issues affecting African Americans.”

The inauguration of Evers and the state’s first black lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, as well as diversity in state leadership overall has black lawmakers feeling hopeful about curbing the state’s racial disparities, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

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Crowley said he looks forward to meeting with the governor soon to discuss some ways to tackle racial disparities in education access and success.

“We have to make sure that we are very strategic in making sure that we get the outcomes we need and want as it relates to African American students,” Crowley said.

For black students in higher education institutions specifically, Crowley hopes to discuss more grants, paid internships and mentoring programs for black students on campus.

Crowley said he would also like to increase the number of black teachers in the state overall to improve graduation rates for black high school students.

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Madison School Board candidate Ali Muldrow agreed that the lack of diversity amongst the school staff does not reflect the diverse school district they serve. She proposed ways to close the achievement gap and improve the educational experience for students of color.

An outward offering of robust opportunities — particularly in diverse subjects — can improve attendance and decrease tension in the classroom, according to Muldrow.

Muldrow also said educators need to reconsider how they administer standardized testing. She said that because the tests were designed by and for white people, students of color have a disparate opportunity in doing well on standardized tests like college admissions exams, for example.

Students have also expressed concerns to Muldrow about how the school district disguises punishment and humiliation as care. Muldrow said the school district is disproportionately suspending, expelling and removing students of color from class with a great deal of indecency.

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“Students see that happening,” Muldrow said. “It bothers students who are directly impacted by it — it bothers students who are observing it in the classroom.”

But Muldrow recognizes that there is a huge benefit to having people with diverse identities and experiences in leadership positions — especially with the governor’s support. Because of this, communities of color can have more conversations about racial dynamics and advocate for change.

According to WSJ, Evers has named African Americans to top state positions like state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor. Stanford Taylor had been assistant state superintendent since 2001. Now, she will be Wisconsin’s top education official.

WSJ also reported that Barnes intends to make equity a top priority, and legislators who represent underserved communities will drive the mission with him. This is a huge shift from former Gov. Scott Walker, who Barnes said was dismissive of race and class issues.

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Crowley, who also commended Evers for appointing lawmakers of color to top secretary positions, agreed that the past administration never really acknowledged many of the issues affecting African Americans in Wisconsin.

“The fact that we have a governor who’s willing to even talk about these issues and acknowledge that it even is an issue is a step in the right direction,” Crowley said. “We can’t talk about us being great when we know that we have a particular population that continues to be at the bottom.”

Even though this divided government will experience some “growing pains,” Crowley added that the new administration has ushered a sense of compromise and bipartisanship amongst the Republican party — which might keep their proposals from getting blocked in the state Legislature.

Muldrow also faces opposition, with school board candidate David Blaska running on a platform that pushes back on a greater focus on race and identity politics.

“He is speaking from a place of entitlement,” Muldrow said. “He doesn’t think it’s an issue because it’s not an issue for him, and I think that’s the definition of privilege.”

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In his State of the State speech, Evers said he will work to make sure that Wisconsin is not the worst state to raise a black family.

Crowley agreed and commended the governor for focusing on the needs of the entire state.

“If we can’t make it better for black children here in Wisconsin, we’re not going to be pushing forward as a state,” Crowley said. “It’s important to understand that when they do better — we all do better.”