The Latino education gap in Arizona took center stage last week when educators, state leaders and business community members attended a forum on the “State of Hispanic Education” in Tucson.
“Arizona is basically an hourglass state where one part of the hourglass are mostly older, white individuals moving into retirement, and the other part is the younger generation, which are largely Latinos,” Arizona State University Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center Director Joseph Garcia told VOXXI. “So you have a big large Latino population coming into the workforce that’s going to be either highly-educated and highly-skilled, or you’re going to have Arizona fall into a permanent status of a second or third tier state because we’re going to have many people who have a hard time making ends meet.”
He added, “Depending on how you look at it, it can be an opportunity or a crisis.”
Nationally ranked 48th in spending on education, Arizona’s economy could be adversely affected in the near future. At stake is an estimated drop in the medium income of almost $3,000 due to the undereducated workforce largely made up of the Latino population.
That’s the message behind the Morrison Institute’s April 2012 report Dropped, which is a follow-up to its 2001 landmark report Five Shoes Waiting to Drop on Arizona’s Future. Garcia said the turn of the century report cited an educational attainment gap. Now the issue deals specifically with the Latino education gap.
“We’re not talking about educating the ‘illegal’ population,” Garcia said. “We’re talking about educating not just future Arizonans but current Arizonans, young Arizonans.”
He said Arizona is currently experiencing a major shift in demographics, which is especially tied to Latino education. The most recent school year in Arizona marked the first time more Latino kids were enrolled in Arizona K-12 classes than non-Latino whites.
“It’s going to take years, but we can find the solution to help our students, for our students to be proactive, for our parents to be proactive, politicians to decide to make a commitment to give more funding to education, to recruit teachers and prepare them better,” said Pima Community College Senior Assistant to the Provost Dr. Dolores Duran-Cerda.
“For me it’s quality early childhood education,” said Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone. “Then it’s about getting the resources targeted in the right way, the right manner.”
The current plan is to get Arizona’s state legislature to recognize the state’s workforce is changing. Garcia said that message is already resonating with the business community.
“There are going to be fewer jobs that just require a high school diploma or less,” Garcia said. “That’s the whole idea, you have to have some post-secondary education. If Latinos aren’t even finishing high school, you can see the chances of the latter happening are greatly diminished.”
Garcia admitted oftentimes the conversation regarding increased education investment results in raised eyebrows and rolled eyes, but the hope is state leaders will see a direct correlation between putting more dollars into education – not just Latino education – and a return on investment in the form of a strong economy.
“I’m confident the message is getting out there more that it’s in everybody’s interest,” Garcia said. “It’s not about, ‘Oh, those poor Latinos.’ You no longer can separate Latino issues from Arizona issues. They’re one in the same. We need to change the way we look at Latinos from a detriment to an opportunity. Many states are going to be scrambling to find a workforce. We’re not in that situation. We just need to determine which workforce we’ll have.”