The Education Opportunity

Author: Paul J. Luna, President & CEO

November 17, 2017


This essay was originally featured as part of the conference guide for the CEOs for Cities National Meeting, held in Phoenix October 30 – November 1.  This annual meeting hosted 300 leaders from 75 cities across North America.

Arizona, like many other states across the nation, is at a crossroads.  Our future will be dictated by the choices we make today.  We have to decide that Arizona is a state that values education and a state that believes that education changes lives and makes communities better.  We have a tremendous opportunity before us.  But there is an urgency to this opportunity.  Our future leaders are sitting in classrooms today and it is critical that we ensure they are prepared for success in college and career.

At Helios Education Foundation, we believe that education, and specifically, postsecondary degree attainment, is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty which will help ensure a strong, qualified workforce pipeline and help put Arizona back on the path toward economic prosperity. 

According to Georgetown University’s report, Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020. Even so, as we look across our K-12 education systems in Arizona, the academic achievement gaps that exist among our students is cause for concern.

The Latino population is the fastest-growing population in Arizona and Latino students make up the largest percentage of students in the state’s K-12 public schools, but Latino students lag behind their White peers in academic achievement across the K-12 education system and are underrepresented in postsecondary degree achievement. Only 18 percent of Arizona Latino 4th graders are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of White children, and only 23 percent of Latino 8th graders are proficient in reading, compared to 51 percent of White students.  Currently, only 19 percent of Latino adults in Arizona have an Associate degree or higher compared with 40 percent of White adults.    

While some may view this as a dilemma, I prefer to look at as an opportunity.  We have an opportunity before us to lead the nation in closing the Latino achievement gap and create an education system in which all children, regardless of zip code or background, are prepared for success. 

We should all be rallying behind an agreed upon set of goals for our education system that includes equitable school funding and resources, high-quality teachers and the need for a rigorous, high expectations, college-going curriculum across the K-12 continuum that ensures that every student is prepared to succeed beyond high school. 

Improving educational outcomes for Latino students is critical for our state to attract, expand and retain vital growth industries and, ultimately, transform Arizona from a low-skill, service economy to a high-skill, knowledge-based economy.  This is the opportunity that lies before us and the opportunity we must embrace.  

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