Rhode Island Latino students are not getting support they need according to a new report (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Census shows it’s time to invest in Latino children, say experts

By 2060 Latinos will be nearly one of every three Americans, according to the latest Census report released today.  As the immigration and globalization expert Marcelo Suarez-Orozco said to the Associated Press, “the fastest growing demographic is the children of immigrants.”  Even though immigration and birth rates have slowed down significantly, Latino and other minority children are now almost half of all schoolchildren k-12, and they are the majority of students in states like Texas and California.

“How Hispanic youth come of age and what types of education and jobs they get will have implications for how the country will be in 2060,” says Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

As jobs increasingly require more education and technical skills, some argue we are not focusing our efforts — and dollars — in the right direction.

“My mother always said to me show me how you are spending your money and I’ll show you your priorities,” says Julian Vasquez Heilig, Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning, at the University of Texas, at Austin.  “Texas cut 5.4 billion dollars from their budget two years ago, yet the majority of growth in student population has been among Latino students,” says Dr. Heilig.  “A lot of the policy solutions — like increased voucher schools, which reduce education funding by 50 percent and put more of the burden on churches, for example — don’t invest in our kids,” he says.

Florida has also cut funding, says Heilig, and though the state points to 4th grade scores which are better than in other states, “it’s how Latino children perform on the ACT and SAT’s, and whether they graduate from high school, that matters, and here, the numbers are low,” she says.

Stella Rouse, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and Politics, says legislators are not focusing on what she considers to be the most pressing issue.  “We have been talking about politics and immigration, but education needs to be our number one priority.  I think the mindset of politicians  has not shifted to match the focus of where the demographics are going,” says Dr. Rouse.

Rouse says policies are not reflecting the fact these demographic changes are basically around the corner.  “We’re talking 30 years from now,” says Rouse.

The Latina political scientist says we are at a crossroads. “Either we are not going to put the resources in to educate our children and not compete in the global market, or we will come to our senses to achieve a competitive, multicultural society,” Rouse says.

A New York Times article  today points to the fact that in California, the state spends about 10 percent of its budget on jails, while the share of spending on higher education is below 8 percent.  So while the California universities have had to raise tuition, the cost to house an inmate is about $50,000 a year.  Thirty years ago it was a different story; California spent 10 percent on higher education then and 3 percent on prisons.

Rouse argues Latinos should use their power in numbers to push for great reallocation of resources — but as a unified front.  “When political strength is fractionalized, people can ignore us,” she says. “I worry from a research standpoint if we stay reactive, and not proactive — minorities are becoming majorities in a 30 years from now, that’s not a lot of time when you think how slowly policy changes.”

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