September 20, 2009

Albuquerque Journal

Invest in Latinos' Education
By Jose Armas, Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force

The Journal's editorial "Cash Alone Can't Fix Latino Education Crisis" is one of the only editorials we've seen that specifically addresses this monstrous problem in our community. For that, our task force is very appreciative. However, we must point out several items which create the wrong impression.
        The Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force has never suggested "cash alone" is the answer. We advocate three major partnership strategies. And within one of those strategies, we have said that stimulus monies should be used and that both human and financial resources must be redirected and applied. We have made the same proposal to the governor who agreed to implement our six initiatives to address our crisis, which, to paraphrase President Obama: the Latino education crisis in not Latinos' problem, it is New Mexico's problem. Moreover, the president recognizes that major changes have to be made in education and is providing monies to address this problem. The Latino community has a right to demand its proportionate share to address our children's needs that have been long neglected.
        We are partnering with the State Department of Education to work on the initiatives approved by Gov. Bill Richardson and also hope that he will declare New Mexico the flagship state to address Latino education so other states can learn from what we accomplish. New Mexico would be the natural flagship state given that we are the only state with a Latino majority; we have the only Latino governor; a slew of Latino legislators — and most importantly — among the worst records in the country for educating Latino children.
        This is crucial for New Mexico because our children outnumber white students nearly two to one. We call the failure to educate our children a catastrophe because what is going on is unsustainable for our state. In New Mexico's largest school district (Albuquerque Public Schools), 61 percent of Latino students are not graduated on time. In the Taos school district, where Latinos make up 80 percent of the students, only about 31 percent of our children graduate in four years. Yes, this is catastrophe. What else to call this condition that threatens our state's social and economic future?
        Another misleading statement is "...someone wants to throw money — usually your money — at it...." First of all, New Mexico is not throwing money at education. Thirty years ago the state committed more than 51 percent of its budget to education; today it's only 46 percent. What is happening is that schools are mis-spending monies and most importantly, not redirecting those monies when programs are clearly failing.
        As for the reference to spending "your money," yes, it is our money and we believe this is an investment — not a waste — as long as "our" money is spent wisely. We would also support a tax increase, if — but only if — those monies were applied to fixing the heart of this problem.
        Doesn't it make sense that to fix a problem, you must first identify where the real problem lies? If your car is not running right and you chose to spend money on the cracked windshield instead of the cracked block, this is irresponsible. We say fix Latino's education (the cracked block) and the other problems will fix much more easily — and more cheaply.
        The last point is that our community is re-engaging with schools to take ownership of our children's education — and New Mexico's future. Our task force includes community members from all walks of life, across the state, who are alarmed, frustrated and outraged that this crisis continues and nothing is being done. Task force members include dedicated parents, students and grandparents as well as leaders of business, social, civic and civil rights organizations, educators, and elected officials. Even a former governor who wants action is part of our group. And, so while we still have a long way to go, everyone should know that it is the Latino "community" that's involved in addressing this unsustainable problem.
        It should also be noted that our task force is the moderate wing of our community; there are others who may not be so concerned with forging partnerships and who are impatient with the misplaced priorities and are ready to take more drastic steps.