May 12, 2006

Commentary:

Giving Our Teachers and Students the Tools They Need to Succeed

May 7-13: Teacher Appreciation Week

By Rubén Hinojosa
Chair, CHC Education Task Force

Each and every American can remember a teacher who made a positive and lasting impact on their education. I know I would not be where I am today without some of the amazing teachers I had along the way. Teachers make immeasurable contributions to our communities and to our children’s lives - often under the most stressful of conditions. There are few professions that touch so many lives and make a real, positive, lasting impression.

Teachers today are more experienced and more educated than at any other time. Yet, because the job is constantly changing, it seems that more and more teachers are leaving the profession primarily because of poor working conditions and low salaries. Nationwide, more than 3.9 million teachers will be needed by 2014, however, many new teachers leave after five years.

More telling, the teaching pool does not reflect this country’s diverse population. In 2004, Hispanic children were 18 percent of the school-age population. By 2010, they will be over 20 percent. However, less than 6 percent of our public school teachers are Hispanic. Only 28 percent of Hispanic teachers have master’s degrees compared to 47 percent of teachers overall. Classroom success depends on cultural diversity and supporting the professional development of our Hispanic teachers.

These statistics do not have to become the norm.

It is clear that it’s impossible for teachers to do this job alone. We need to ensure that parent’s stay involved in their children’s education and that communities actively support the work they do. We in Congress, of course, must do our part, too. Over the next few days, we will begin debate on the Administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2007 - a budget that does little to support children and teachers.

The proposed FY07 budget slashes education funding by $2.1 billion, the largest cut since 1996. Worse, it cuts $855 million from the programs we call the Hispanic Education Action Plan. These programs include: Titles I and III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, migrant education programs, dropout prevention, the High School Equivalency Program (HEP), the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP),

TRIO (educational opportunity outreach programs designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds), GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program), Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Even Start, Adult English as a Second Language, and Civics Education. Our children deserve more, and they deserve better.

Hispanic children are now second to only non-Hispanic whites in our nation’s schools. By 2010, Hispanics will be the largest minority group in our nation’s workforce. Yet Hispanic children are the least likely to attend preschool, the most likely to dropout of school before earning a high school diploma, and the least likely to earn a college degree.

We must increase the numbers of bilingual educators in our schools and provide strong, solid role models in the classroom so that our Hispanic children can succeed. We must continue to invest in programs that have a proven track record. Unfortunately, it seems that the Administration and the Majority in Congress do not share this view.

The fiscal year 2006 education budget cut every single program in the Hispanic Education Action Plan. For the first time in 10 years, the federal support for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) has been reduced, in spite of the fact that half of all Hispanic college students attend HSIs. For the first time in ten years, funding for Title I, the cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind Act has been cut. TRIO programs have been put on the chopping block. Programs for English language learners and migrant students have been cut for the third year in a row. These cuts are coming at a time when the Department of Education estimates that there are 5.4 million English language learners in our schools and projects that the number will double by 2025.

As education is fundamental to the success of our Hispanic youth, I have introduced two key bills that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has endorsed. The Graduation for All Act (H.R. 547) authorizes the Secretary of Education to establish a program that will provide grants to State and local educational agencies to establish reading and writing programs. These programs would help improve overall reading and writing performance among middle and high school students. The Next Generation Hispanic-Serving Institutions Act (H.R. 761) establishes a program of competitive grants to eligible HSIs that offer postbaccalaureate certifications or degrees. These bills do not fix all the ills of our educational system, but they do give our students and future teachers a fighting chance.

During this year’s National Teacher Day, I encourage community leaders, parents, business owners, and students themselves to recognize the great work our teachers are doing to improve the lives and education of our country’s youth. I encourage them - and everyone - to stand up for teachers and make their voices heard against these harmful budget cuts.

The future of our country depends on it.

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa was elected to Congress in 1996 and is currently serving his fifth term as the representative of the 15th District of Texas. He serves on the powerful Committee on Financial Services and on the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

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