February 3, 2006

Commentary:

No Child Left Behind Leaves Hispanic Children Behind

By Congressman Rubén Hinojosa
Chair, CHC Education Task Force

This month marks the 4th anniversary of the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act. It comes on the heels of the President’s signing into law an education budget for fiscal year 2006 that cuts more than $175 million from the key programs that support educational opportunities for Hispanics, leaving little cause for celebration in our community.

Our census figures tell the story. Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the country. In our nation’s schools, Hispanic children outnumber all other students with the exception of non-Hispanic whites. 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. 

Strengthening educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans from pre-school through graduate school must become a national priority. Literally, the nation’s future depends on it. Unfortunately, the Republicans who control Congress and the White House have placed their priorities elsewhere.

In December of 2001, I, along with the other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), stood shoulder to shoulder with our Democratic and Republican leaders and voted to send the No Child Left Behind Act to the President for his signature. When President Bush signed the Act into law on January 8, 2002, we were filled with great optimism that we were ushering in a new day for our nation’s schools.

On a bipartisan basis, the Congress and the President came together and established a new national compact on education. No longer would we stand by while our poor children, our Hispanic children, our African American children, our migrant students, our limited English proficient students, and our students with special needs, were systematically left behind.

We pledged that we would hold ourselves accountable and we pledged that we would devote resources necessary to succeed in this effort. The President and the Congress promised our children and our families that we would dramatically increase our investment in education. The majority has clearly failed to make adequate yearly progress in funding educa-tion. We are in urgent need of an improvement plan for Congress and the Administration.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus know what we need to do. We have an investment plan. The CHC focuses on a group of federal education programs that are critical to the Hispanic community. We call these programs the Hispanic Education Action Plan. They 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, a series of educational opportunity outreach programs designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds; Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP); Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs); and adult English as a Second Language and civics education.

The fiscal year 2006 education budget cut every single program in this plan. For the first time in 10 years, the federal support for 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. Even Start, which provides literacy services to low-income families — over half being Hispanic — has been slashed by more than 50 percent. 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.

We must turn this around and significantly increase the investments in all of these programs. The stakes could not be higher. In her address at the fourth annual summit hosted by the Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition, Secretary Spellings summed it up best, “When you lose a million students every year... that’s a tremendous impact on our economy. And it represents the American Dream... denied.”

At the end of this month, there will be another accountability moment for the administration. The president will lay out his goals for the year in the State of the Union address. The following week, he will unveil his budget for fiscal year 2007. Where will the Hispanic community be in the list of priorities?

It is time for us to raise our voices and stand up for our community. We have a choice. We can do better.  

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa is currently serving his fifth term as the representative of the 15th District of Texas. He is a member of the Financial Services Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee. He also serves as Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Select Education. Congressman Hinojosa chairs the Education Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage