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Education secretary addresses Latino education issues

Created: 02 Octuber, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – Corey Jacinto, 18, knew that he wouldn’t have been able to attend Pomona College in Clare-mont, Calif., if it wasn’t for scholarships and financial aid.

 He lives with his 85-year-old grandmother, and it was up to him to finance his education – $51,000 a year at Pomona. The freshman, who is thinking about studying economics, is not alone. Latino students across the country have found it difficult to receive a quality education at a time when states face budget cuts and fee increases.

 “It’s definitely harder in the sense that minorities have less resources to begin with, and even now, with the economic recession it’s even less accessible,” said Jacinto, a Denver native. “That means fewer kids who really need it are going to go without money.”

 Recently, Jacinto won a $1,500 scholarship, a new laptop and a trip to Washington from the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislatures, which is meeting here this week.

 He was one of 12 scholarship recipients present during a speech by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Renaissance Hotel on Monday.

 The speech marked the beginning of the fifth annual Latino education summit presented by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. Education leaders from 17 states met to discuss issues affecting the Latino community. The three-day summit serves as an educational experience for participants and includes sessions on how to support English language learners, higher education and the Latino workforce and how to keep up with federal education initiatives.

 “We need more people to engage in what I feel is the most important issue facing the country today,” said Duncan, who called education a civil rights issue. “We need to educate our way into a better economy.”

 Duncan highlighted the federal government’s $100 billion funding for education in the economic stimulus bill and legislation that would increase aid at all levels of education.

 He called for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, championed programs in Oklahoma City and Chicago to educate children from birth to pre-K and addressed the need for better schools and more teachers.

 Duncan also addressed dropout rates.

 He said that 30 percent of high school students enrolled in the ninth grade fail to graduate from high school after four years.

 According to the department’s National Center for Education Statistics, 8.7 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds were not enrolled in school and had not completed a high school program, regardless of when they left school.

 According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more Hispanic youths are enrolling in school and dropout rates have decreased over the past 30 years. However, other races have seen similar changes, and Hispanics still have the highest dropout rates, 19 percent among 16- to 25-year-olds.

 “All groups are making progress, and so the gaps remain,” said Richard Fry, a senior research associate at Pew Hispanic. “Hispanic youth are walking up a down escalator.”

 Duncan acknowledged that access to quality education is a challenge, but noted $17 billion in new funding for Pell Grants and efforts to “dramatically simplify” the application for student aid.

 “What we have to do is create a college-going culture,” Duncan said.

 For Monica Garcia, president of the Los Angeles Unified School District school board, solving problems of larger class sizes and underperforming schools means building coalitions between local and federal officials.

 “I think it’s a pipeline approach, and there’s interest in advocacy and concern and a lot of eagerness to bring solutions and work together to make sure that every kid in our school has access to quality education,” Garcia said. “It’s great to hear Secretary Duncan and other Latino leadership really trying to move as fast as we can and challenging all of us to do it better and more organized.”

 Texas state Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Williamson County, said her state needs more Latino educators.

 “We have done a disservice and probably without having enough representation for Latinos in all levels of education,” said Maldonado, whose district includes Austin. “That is why in states like Texas and other fast-growth states, we need to start making some changes in that regard.”