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New York State Senate Passes Education Diversity Legislation

The New York State Senate voted on Jan. 3 to advance measures designed to improve school diversity, including attracting historically underrepresented talent for teaching positions and improving access to higher education.

The “Grow Your Own” initiative for school districts, cooperative education services and higher education institutions is designed to help more New Yorkers become educators in their own communities. It seeks to offer additional support, training and mentorship for educators — and could become a model for increasing diversity in academic institutions across the country.

“The Senate Majority is committed to tearing down the barriers that create inequities in our school systems … We know that our children learn better when they see themselves in their teachers,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement following the legislation’s passage.

One bill would cover the observance of religious holidays; State and city universities in New York won’t be able to penalize students for taking off due to religious or culturally significant holidays.

Another measure includes an increase in participation in the State Universities of New York (SUNY)’s Educational Opportunity Program, which provides academic and financial support to students who are well-suited for college but who may not have otherwise been admitted or able to afford it. There will also be a task force to study educator diversity.

An additional piece of legislation directs the commissioner of education (now MaryEllen Elia) to convene statewide and regional conventions dedicated to helping teachers from underrepresented groups share their experiences and advance their careers through mentorship and networking opportunities.

There is also a move to address a specific topic in the curriculum: slavery. This bill moves the Amistad Commission from the Department of the State to the Department of Education. Created in 2005, the Amistad Commission reviews the state’s curriculum covering the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in America to ensure lessons accurately reflect slavery’s gravity in U.S. history.

“I’m proud to sponsor two bills we passed this week — the first days of Black History Month — that deal with racial justice in education. Being a teacher from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group can be very isolating and make it hard to do your job well,” Senator Robert Jackson, who sponsored the Amistad Commission and regional conventions bills, said in a statement.

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