Latino Advocacy Group Calls for Educational Improvements
SAN ANTONIO — UnidosUS, the largest Latino advocacy organization in the country, unveiled a series of policy recommendations for educational advancement on Monday during its annual conference in San Antonio, the first held in person in two years.
The policy recommendations come as part of a report entitled “Latino Student Success: Advancing U.S. Educational Progress for All,” which draws its findings from academic hardships experienced throughout the three academic years disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report details the steady gains made by Latino students in educational achievement over 30 years and how the pandemic created and exacerbated problems for the young learners.
UnidosUS, known previously as the National Council of La Raza, is a civil rights and advocacy organization that produces research, advocacy and programs through its affiliate network of around 300 community-based organizations across the United States and Puerto Rico.
Addressing the conference’s crowd on Monday, Janet Murguía, Unidos president and chief executive officer, told participants the pandemic not only threatened the historical progress of Latino students but also revealed continuing inequities engrained within the nation’s education system.
“Latino students are our nation’s future,” Murguía said. “Too often, they are seen as a burden on schools when, in reality, they bring a multitude of abilities and assets — from multilingualism to navigating across cultures and their resilience for success and commitment to hard work.
“These students strengthen our schools and our country. We must invest in Latino students now so that we can lead the way toward an America where every child receives a good education.”
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who Murguía noted has taught writing and English at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009, also spoke at the conference. Biden said she was reminded of the organization’s “transformational power” when former Unidos President and CEO Raul Yzaguirre was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on July 1 for his time at the forefront of the Hispanic civil rights movement during his 30-year tenure as NCLR leader.
“Raul has dedicated his life to working for so many civil liberties — from fighting poverty to improving education to advancing voting rights,” Biden said. “But one of the most powerful things that he did through this organization was to bring the Latino community together. Because he understood that unity is powerful. And he challenges us to be just as brave and bold.”
Despite some controversy arising from Biden’s comparing the community’s diversity to the uniqueness of “the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio,” a statement spurned by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, she would go on to say that the Latino community shares its desires with the majority of Americans. Good schools, good jobs, safe neighborhoods, justice and equality are not only what all families want, Biden said, it’s what they deserve.
Between 2009 and 2020, the percentage of Latino public-school students increased from 22% to 28%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As this population of students grows, Unidos’ report calls for a series of policy recommendations that, in its leadership’s view, support the equitable success of all students in the education system.
In its findings, the report recommends:
- Prioritizing “actionable data and student-centered accountability” through accessing transparent data on student learning across the country and compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act framework for identifying and supporting low-performing schools.
- Providing equitable funding to support low-income students by increasing Title I and guaranteeing more investments to students who require the most support.
- Building upon the assets of multilingual learners by increasing Title III funding targeted to support students who are learning English as a second language.
- Ensuring all students have access to “inclusive, responsive and welcoming schools.”
- Supporting “anywhere, anytime” learning modules to close the homework gap.
- Engaging with families about education policies and resources.
- Keeping students on track for postsecondary education by investing in programs that provide postsecondary guidance to underserved students, doubling the maximum federal Pell Grant, and increasing investments for retention and completion grants.
Biden’s participation in the event comes at a time when the administration’s relationship with the Hispanic and Latino community has come under scrutiny. In June, The Well News reported that Republicans flipped a heavily Hispanic south Texas Congressional District in a special election for retiring Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela’s seat.
President Joe Biden will meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday after Obrador snubbed an invitation to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, last month. Obrador’s absence came after he unsuccessfully lobbied for the inclusion of the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela at the summit and criticized U.S. support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.
Expert panelists later took the stage at the Unidos conference to discuss other initiatives for federal agencies to support children and families in the country, such as learning in remote settings, access to counseling and mental health support, challenges induced by the pandemic and access to qualified teachers.
The panel featured Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary January Contreras, Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development Assistant Secretary Roberto Rodríguez, and was moderated by Unidos Board Member Teresa Granillo. On stage, Contreras and Rodríguez shared what their respective agencies were doing to support these initiatives.
“For [the] Department of Education, we have worked hard to put over $122 billion in pandemic relief funding through the [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund] program out to all of our states,” Rodríguez said. “We’re working to provide guidance and support to help those state and local leaders rebuild in this pandemic, and we’re focused on that learning loss.
“We’re focused on student well-being and how we can do more to help marshal those mental health resources and supports, and we’re focused on those teacher shortages — how we can do more to help more urgently prepare, support and track not just the current teacher workforce but build a new, diverse, talented teaching workforce.”