July 28, 2000
By Jerome DeHerrera
For the Latino community, education should be the most important issue in the presidential campaign. We are a very young community and the future progress of Latinos will be determined by their education.
In 1999, 40% of Hispanics in the US were under the age of 21, but we have not been successful under the current education system. Of Hispanics over the age of 25, 44% had less than a high school diploma and 89% had less than a bachelor's degree.
With these statistics in mind, the issue of education should be a critical campaign issue and should turn our communities out to vote in the general election. Both major presidential candidates are aware of this, and both will aggressively market their visions for improving education in our communities.
Governor Bush's vision for improving education is to strengthen accountability and offer families a choice. Bush would accomplish this largely through standards for schools and the threat of cutting federal funding from schools that fail to meet these standards. Under Bush's plan, students could withdraw from failing schools and take their share of federal money, as much as $1,500, to other schools.
Like a voucher, this proposal would allow students to use federal money to pay for private schools or home schooling. Unlike a voucher system, however, this proposal takes money directly from the school from which the student withdraws.
Many criticize this approach because it takes away funding from many schools that most likely are already underfunded.
Others criticize this proposal by pointing out that private schools are selective and won't accept every student that applies. Thus, the students who need the most help are likely to be turned away because they have costlier needs and may need scholarships in addition to the $1,500 voucher.
Vice-President Gore's vision for improving education, on the other hand, involves fixing public schools by reducing class sizes during the early grades and by making pre-school available to the children from poor families that cannot afford it on their own.
Critics of this approach, Dick Cheney for example, Bush's running mate, say the answer does not lie in throwing money at a problem. Cheney, when he was in Congress, voted against the Head Start program because he believed there wasn't enough money to afford such programs. But Head Start has been a successful program and it is the kind of program that we should fund.
The policies and visions of the two candidates are clear regarding education. Governor Bush believes that holding schools accountable for their students' test scores by cutting federal funding will improve schools. Vice-President Gore believes that the government should invest more in public schools in order to insure that children born into poverty are able to go to pre-school, and that all children in our public schools should have smaller class sizes in the early grades.
A new report by the non-partisan and well respected Rand Corporation, tells a lot about which presidential candidate's vision for improving education will be best for Latinos.
The study finds that math scores are finally improving throughout the country, especially for students in Texas. For example, the math and reading scores of the 4th grade Latino students in Texas were the fifth highest in the nation, while the test scores of the 4th grade Latinos in California ranked third from the bottom.
As you can imagine, the Bush campaign has pointed to this study as evidence that Governor Bush will improve education in America.
The irony, however, is that the study attributes these gains by the students in Texas to policies enacted before Bush was elected governor. And, most important, the study says that expanding pre-school and reducing class size are largely responsible for the success in Texas.
These policies which helped Latino youngsters in Texas achieve and succeed in education are the ones that Vice-President Gore is ready to fight for, not Governor Bush.
Jerome writes a political column from Washington DC. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org