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Prioritizing Latino Student Success in Arizona and Florida

Author: Callie Kozlak, Field Campaign Manager for Education Policy, UnidosUS

July 31, 2018

In July 2018, UnidosUS hosted its Annual Conference in Washington, DC, also marking its 50th Anniversary. UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza) is the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization with an Affiliate network of over 250 community-based organizations across the United States. At the conference, Janice Palmer, Helios Education Foundation Vice President and Director of Policy, moderated a workshop discussion dedicated to education policy and partnerships called Equity Building: The Role of Federal Education Policy in Advancing Equity. During the workshop, the UnidosUS education policy and advocacy team updated attendees on the implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), previously known as No Child Left Behind, and shared insights from its education work in Arizona, Florida, and California. 

Why Latino and English Learner Students
There are currently 13 million Latino students in K-12 public schools in the United States (1).  By 2023, Latinos will represent nearly 30% of all students enrolled in K-12 public schools in the US (2).  In Arizona, Latino students make up nearly 50% of the state’s K-12 public schools (3).   In Florida, one-third of children identify as Latino, and the number of minority children in the state is expected to rise with Florida projected to reach majority-minority status by 2028 (4).  Across the United States, there are nearly five million English learners (ELs) in K–12 public schools with nearly 100,000 English learners in Arizona, and 300,000 in Florida (5).  Bottom line – the present and the future is Latino.

UnidosUS and Helios are working to raise awareness on education issues impacting Latinos students in Arizona and Florida—with the goal of making sure every student receives a high-quality education that prepares them to pursue college and careers. Both organizations partner with communities and non-profits providing services to eliminate achievement and opportunity gaps for underserved and underrepresented communities, including English Learners (ELs). UnidosUS and Helios share a belief that building partnerships throughout Arizona and Florida is key to advancing an equity-focused education agenda dedicated to the success of Latino students.

Advocating for Equity
To ensure more Latino students are prepared to pursue and complete two- and four-year degrees and enter the workforce with the skills necessary to effectively compete for and secure high-demand, high-paying jobs, Helios launched its Latino Student Success Initiative. Shrinking academic achievement and degree completion disparities between Latino students and their peers is part of how Helios measures the success of their initiative. Additionally, Helios believes improving the academic and professional success of Latinos will help Arizona and Florida meet its workforce talent demands and stimulate and grow their economy.

UnidosUS played a key role on behalf of Latino and English learner students at the federal level in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, now known as ESSA. Within the new law there are important provisions to strengthen accountability systems and meaningful community engagement. ESSA modifications require each state to set goals and include growth and proficiency of ELs in its school grading or rating system to continue to receive federal funding. It is incumbent on all states to ensure that EL students become proficient in English to ensure their on-going academic success and access to opportunities. UnidosUS continues its advocacy on ESSA at the federal and state level and applies a similar equity lens to higher education policy to effectively support students from early childhood through college and career.

Latino student success is not only a moral imperative, but an economic imperative. UnidosUS and Helios will continue to shine a light on a growing population of students vital to the future of Arizona and Florida, and to the country.

[1] National Center for Education Statistics. Fast Fact (Fall 2017). https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372
[2] National Council of La Raza (2015). Latinos in New Spaces: Emerging Trends and Implications for Federal Education Policy.
[3] Arizona Department of Education (Winter 2017). The State of Arizona ESSA State Plan. https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplan17/azconsolidatedstateplan.pdf (accessed July 2018).  
[4] National Council of La Raza. (2016). Latinos in the sunshine state: Building a brighter economic future.
[5] National Center for Education Statistics (April 2018). English Language Learners in Public Schools. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgf.asp#f2

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