Latino Graduation Rates Surge to Three-decade High

Bell Multicultural StudentsFor the first time in over three decades, a new study found that the Latino on-time graduation rate in 2010 surged to over 70% in a major ten-point jump from four years before.

The increase in Hispanic high school graduation, combined with an increase among other groups, has led the national dropout rate to fall to just 3% of all American high school students.

Although Latinos are still dropping out of high school in unsustainably high numbers, at more than double the rate of their non-Hispanic counterparts, these findings may represent a welcome turn in the right direction. Far more than before, young Hispanic students are making the decision to stay in school until graduation day.

“While we are excited about this new increase in high school graduation rates, our ultimate challenge remains to ensure that more Hispanic students are prepared to be accepted and succeed in our colleges and universities. We must see more Latinos enroll in college each year with the skills they need to graduate and obtain a degree,” said Delia Pompa, Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

What does this change mean for a growing Latino community during a time when many states are cutting school resources in the name of fiscal austerity?

Despite both cultural and linguistic setbacks, we know that Latino children can achieve educational goals whether in preschool or in high school and should not be written off at any point along the educational pipeline. Every day, talented and hardworking Hispanic students overcome stereotypes and personal adversity and succeed in realizing dreams of both high school and college graduation.

“NCLR works with school administrators, teachers, and parents to ensure that they not only graduate from high school but are prepared to face rigorous college coursework. Through programs like “What If?” and the Escalera Program, NCLR supports student-focused programs that provide tools for Latino students to be better prepared for acceptance to postsecondary institutions and thrive in a college environment,” said Pompa.

As Latino unemployment still hovers around 10% nationally, many Hispanic teens may be consciously deciding to stay in school, recognizing that without a degree their employment prospects are scant in an already difficult job market.

While an increase in graduation rates is a strong step forward, the study finds that nearly 30% of Hispanic high school students dropped out of school during the 2009–2010 academic year. This is still unacceptably high, and we must work together this year to redouble our efforts to ensure that every Latino student has the opportunity to succeed and earn a high school diploma.

Our Affiliates Are Paving the Way for Safer Communities

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Photo: Department of Education

When it comes to education, our Affiliates make the grade. The federal government has also taken note.

Recently, the Department of Education announced the winners of the 2012 Promise Neighborhoods grants. Three of our Affiliates were among 17 organizations that received a total of $60 million in grants. At a speech on school safety in Washington, DC, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan emphasized the role that Promise Neighborhoods plays in keeping communities safe.

“Children must be safe, healthy, and supported by adults across an entire community to reach their fullest potential,” said Duncan in a press release. “Against all odds, Promise Neighborhoods work to provide families and children with the support they need to help break the cycle of poverty that threatens too many of our nation’s communities.”

The NCLR Affiliates that received the grants are Youth Policy Institute (YPI) in Los Angeles, Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) in San Francisco, and Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation in Brooklyn, New York.

Promise Neighborhoods, first launched in 2010, is a community-focused program that funds local-led efforts to improve educational opportunities and provide comprehensive health, safety, and support services in high-poverty neighborhoods. To help leverage and sustain grant work, 1,000 national, state, and community organizations have signed on to partner with a Promise Neighborhood site, including over 300 organizations supporting 2012 grant winners. The grants are part of the Obama administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which is aimed at breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty through what the White House calls “innovative and inclusive strategies that bring public and private partners together.”

YPI and MEDA are both receiving implementation grants, which will help the two Affiliates build upon previous work that was funded with planning grants. Each Affiliate is set to receive $6 million.
Cypress Hills has been awarded a planning grant in the amount of $371,222.

“NCLR congratulates all three Affiliates who are exceptional models of community-based organizations,” said Sonia M. Pérez, NCLR Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives. “Their dedication, efforts and results exemplify the power of the NCLR Affiliate Network and the roles that these organizations play in strengthening neighborhoods across the country.”

Fewer Dreams Deferred in California Thanks to New Law

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Photo: Office of Antonio Villaraigosa

For undocumented students in California, 2013 brings a new blessing.  As of January 1, California has started letting undocumented students access the state’s public financial aid system.

From the Riverside Press-Enterprise:  “The law covers students who attended high school in California for at least three years and graduated from a California high school.  It also benefits U.S. citizens and legal residents who attended California high schools but later moved out of state, making them previously ineligible for state financial aid.”

The projected number of students expected to apply for the grant is 20,000, less than 1% of the state’s college students.  Still, a contentious debate ensued upon the bill’s introduction in the legislature.  Relentless advocacy, however, from thousands across the state helped ensure the bill’s passage.  NCLR’s Affiliates were among that number.

TODEC Legal Services, an NCLR Affiliate, and its community programs director, Luz Gallegos, helped organize instrumental lobbying trips.  More from the Riverside Press-Enterprise:

“Luz Gallegos, community programs director for TODEC Legal Services, a Perris immigrant-assistance group, said that when immigrants obtain higher-paying jobs, they contribute more in taxes.

“Under an Obama administration policy that went into effect in August, young undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements can obtain temporary work permits.

“In 2011, Gallegos traveled three times with a busload of other Inland residents to Sacramento to lobby for passage of the Dream Act.”

We congratulate all the dedicated activists and organizations that were instrumental in this legislative victory.  DREAMers in California are one step closer to fulfilling their potential.

As Fiscal Cliff Draws Nearer, There Is No Time For a Plan B

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

This New Year’s, many Americans across the country will have quite a bit weighing on their minds at a time when they are supposed to be clinking champagne glasses and making their resolutions for 2013.  In less than two weeks, our country will go over the fiscal cliff, resulting in a tax hike for millions of Americans and severe funding cuts to education, health care, and housing programs, to name a few.  That is unless Congress and the Obama administration can reach a deal on the federal budget.

For a brief moment earlier this week, it appeared that both sides were willing to compromise.

But that glimmer of hope was fleeting, and it seems negotiations are at a standstill.  Republican leadership is now pushing “Plan B,” which the House will vote on tonight at 6:00 p.m.

Simply put, “Plan B” is bad for Hispanic families.  It fails to meet NCLR’s principles for a fairer federal budget.  The plan further reduces tax liability for those at the top while pushing working families toward poverty.

The wealthiest would be the big winners should this plan pass.  Under “Plan B,” millionaires would get an estimated $50,000 tax cut, while 25 million middle class families making less than $250,000 a year would see their income taxes increase by an average of $1,000 apiece.  And,millions would lose access to the Child Tax Credit, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which are valuable tools that help prevent many Latinos from falling below the poverty line.

All of this while also allowing the sequester to move forward, gutting critical investments in education, jobs, and housing.  For example, in many poor districts, where federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Hispanic and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.

“Plan B” is not a viable option for Latinos or this country.  Thankfully, President Obama has already issued a veto threat.  However, that does not mean both sides should stop trying to reach an agreement.  We strongly urge House Speaker Boehner and President Obama to put America’s working and middle-class families ahead of politics.  We need a fair approach to deficit reduction where everyone pays their share.

We must end this stalemate.  Far too much is at stake for the American people.  Nobody wins if we go over the fiscal cliff, and the clock is almost up.

Fiscal Cliff Will Add to Texas Education Budget Woes

By José Ibarra,Texas Field Organizer and Capacity-Building Strategist, NCLR

For Texas, a state that experienced a $27 billion shortfall during the last legislative session and cut $5.4 billion from the state education budget, going over the fiscal cliff will add yet another problem to an already contentious issue.  Of the education funds slashed in 2011, $1.4 billion was cut from grants and discretionary spending that largely impacted full-day pre-k, parent engagement, bilingual, after-school, credit recovery, and dropout prevention programs—all of which are largely attended by students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including many Latinos.

Should lawmakers in Washington, DC fail to resolve the fiscal cliff, the Texas budget will fall short by more than $1 billion.  Over half that amount will come out of an already taxed education budget in a state where 62% of the student population is composed of racial or ethnic minorities.

A further cut of slightly more than $1 billion could translate into further job and program losses, including the firing of 1,400 teaching and educational support jobs.  This would come on top of 25,000 layoffs for teachers and support staff in 2011 and 2012, despite an increase of approximately 332,000 students in the last four years.  Most of the service cuts will come from Title I grants and special needs programs, which already operate on limited funds and affect underprivileged students.

The bottom line is that Texas cannot afford additional financial strains, especially with regard to the education budget that already saw drastic cuts in 2011 and prompted six lawsuits in state courts surrounding school finance.  It is our obligation to urge federal lawmakers to resolve the fiscal cliff and prevent further cuts to the programs and services that affect the well-being of our children, our state, our economy, and our country.

Why All Mamis Should Make Their Voices Heard on the Fiscal Cliff

By Liany Elba Arroyo, Associate Director, Education and Children’s Policy Project, NCLR

Mamis, think the fiscal cliff isn’t a big deal?  Think again!

The fiscal cliff is approaching rapidly and negotiations between Congress and the White House appear to be going nowhere.  It seems like falling off the cliff is inevitable.  What isn’t inevitable, however, is the damage that this will cause to the economy, our communities, and our schools.

The fiscal cliff refers to the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the start of new budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 through a process known as sequestration.  How this will affect the economy has been front-page news, but what is talked about less is what happens to our education system on January 2, when the budget cuts go into effect.  For our most vulnerable children, particularly the more than 17 million Latino children in this country, the stakes are high.

While our education system is funded primarily by local property taxes, federal funds account for 8% of all education spending.  However, poor districts receive additional funding from the federal government that they count on to keep schools open, teachers in the classroom, and assistance available to the neediest students.  For some districts, federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets.  For example, a recent analysis found that federal funds make up more than 15% of the school budgets in Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia and more than 20% of the budgets in Chicago and Milwaukee.

What does this all mean?  After the fiscal cliff, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Latino and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.  The programs that stand to lose most are those created to help these children compete.  For example:

  • 1.8 million fewer children will be served by Title I, which helps the poorest students.
  • 145,180 children will lose access to before- or after-school programs.
  • 10,899 fewer educators will be available to support special needs students.
  • 26,949 fewer infants and toddlers will receive early intervention services.

Latino children have so much at stake during this debate.  They are 23% of all public school students.  Thirty-seven percent of all Latino children attend the nation’s poorest schools.  Over one-third of all students served by Title I are Latino.  If we fall off the fiscal cliff, our children will suffer the consequences of our inaction.  As the mamis of our future leaders, we must inform ourselves and act to ensure that Congress and the Obama administration make the right decisions.  Our children are depending on us.

Latinos Are Watching How Elected Officials Respond to the Fiscal Cliff

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

NCLR hosted a national call today for leaders from the NCLR Affiliate Network, the NCLR Action Network, members of the press, and others engaged with the Hispanic community for a discussion on how to address the country’s budget challenges with a balanced approach that protects vulnerable families.  We were joined by Rep. Xavier Becerra (D–CA); Jason Furman, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Principal Deputy Director of the National Economic Council; and Julie Rodriguez, Associate Director of Latino Affairs and Immigration for the White House Office of Public Engagement.  In case you missed it, the call was recorded and is available at www.nclr.org/federalbudget.

According to the exit polls, more than 12 million Latinos cast their vote last month.  Like all Americans, Latino voters went to the polls with the economy on their minds.  The Hispanic community has spoken, and they overwhelmingly favor a fair, balanced, and shared approach to deficit reduction.  More than 700 people signed up for today’s call, which shows that our community’s deep civic participation is continuing.  Hispanic voters are watching carefully to see how federal policymakers address the so-called fiscal cliff in ongoing debates on the federal budget.

NCLR Affiliates on the call wanted to know if lawmakers and the Obama administration will raise taxes on working families or gut critical investments in students and workers.  For example, Dixon Slingerland, Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute in Los Angeles, raised the issue of unemployment among Latino youth, which is over 20 percent nationwide.  He stressed the importance of providing services for Latino disconnected youth who are interested in returning to school or finding work.  Dixon made a strong case for policymakers to shift their focus to a major jobs package to address the persistent unemployment crisis.

Cynthia F. Figueroa, President and CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos, based in Philadelphia, pointed out that poverty and inequality have risen greatly over the last four years in our nation’s urban centers.  Parents are working multiple part-time jobs or low-paying full-time jobs to make ends meet.  In this economy, the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit have been lifelines to Latino families and children.  She pressed the White House to stand firm and not sacrifice these potent antipoverty tools.  Figueroa also highlighted the importance of investing in kids and maintaining important funding for education programs that our youth need.

Olivia Mendoza, Executive Director of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization in Denver, shared that one in four Latinos in Colorado and two-fifths of children statewide rely on Medicaid for vital health coverage.  It is no secret that Medicaid is a prime target for cuts.  She asked how the White House would protect the gains won through the Affordable Care Act.

Finally, Stephen Torsell, Executive Director of Homes on the Hill in Columbus, Ohio, called attention to the ongoing fight against foreclosures and vacant and abandoned properties in his state.  He asked how the administration aims to preserve funding for vital housing and financial coaching services such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Counseling Program, which has been to be one of the most effective ways of preventing unnecessary foreclosures.

NCLR appreciates the time that the White House staff took to respond to these questions and others by leaders serving Hispanic families.  We hope the administration and Congress take notice of the issues put on the table by those closest to the community.

Latinos sent President Obama back to the White House because of his commitment to fighting for working families.  The fiscal cliff is his first opportunity to act on those campaign promises.  We all agree that something must be done to lower the federal deficit.  However, it is wrong to ask working families to sacrifice education, health care, and their children’s well-being to give tax breaks to people and corporations that do not need them.  Smart investments in education, jobs, and housing will help hardworking families move up the economic ladder—and that will benefit us all.  This is our vision of a fair economy where prosperity is shared by everyone and the most vulnerable among us are protected.

What If….

A critical part of closing the education gap in America is college readiness.  As part of our committment to this, and with generous support from our sponsors, we have developed the “What If? NCLR College Readiness Initiative.” The idea is simple: What if every Latino student got the support needed to succeed in college and beyond?

Currently, we are running a contest that challenges students at our charter school network to answer that question through the use of video. The video contest gives kids the chance to speak up for their generation. Below is the first entry by Angel Damian, a student at George.I. Sanchez High School, an NCLR-affiliate charter.

Watch the video and then vote!

The Language Question: Bilingual or Not, No One Is a Fake

By Ricky Garza, Communications Department, NCLR

As America’s Latino population grows and diversifies, the question of what unites us becomes more difficult to answer.  For the immigrants and their descendants who hail from Latin America’s 19 Spanish-speaking countries, diverse histories, cultures, cuisines, and national identities all threaten to divide us as a community.  Fortunately, the use of a common language seems the great equalizer, something that all Latinos can unite behind.

But what about Latinos who don’t speak Spanish?

Because a majority of all Hispanics are born in the United States, millions of young Latinos grow up as third- or fourth-generation citizens, owing their roots to a migration from perhaps over a century ago.  Yet they are categorized alongside more recent Spanish-speaking Latinos by either their looks or their last name.  These young people are clearly Latino, but an acute sense of shame and belittlement can come with not knowing Spanish, both from within and from outside the community.

The label of “Hispanic” is often considered as an ethnicity rather than a race, including by the U.S. Census (although this too is subject to change), making it difficult to argue that a permanent and singular Latino identity exists.  As has been seen throughout U.S. history, ethnic identities can quickly be assimilated into the identities of other races.  A mixture of culture, darker skin, and the Spanish language seems to barely hold us together as a group.  For a light-skinned, fourth-generation Mexican American growing up in a monolingual home, a connection to Hispanic identity may seem out of reach.

But is shaming the monolingual members of our community a productive task?  A quick glance at the comments section of the Huffington Post’s coverage of this language issue shows a flood of frustration with “fake Latinos” who are bitterly “refusing to learn” Spanish. Continue reading