Lack of Latinos in AZ education leadership driving new organization

By: - December 5, 2019 4:07 pm

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After decades of Latino students consistently underperforming in Arizona’s public schools, a new organization hopes to make systematic improvements by advocating and training Latinos to step into education leadership roles, where Latinos are also underrepresented.

“We are jumping in, we are stepping into power,” said Luis Avila, founder of Arizona for Latino Leaders in Education. “We are doing this because we are concerned about the success of Arizona.”

The new organization will focus on three areas: organizing people, ideas and money, Avila explained. He said the group will start a leadership development program to have a list of “appointment-ready” Latino community members who can step into leadership roles, will create a policy platform to improve the educational outcomes of Latino students and raise $100,000 to fund the group’s operations. 

Latino students account for almost half of public school enrollment in Arizona, but of those overseeing education policy, only 1 in 10 are Latino. 

According to ALL in Education, Latinos only make up 10% of the members of the state’s three educational governing bodies — the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities, the Arizona State School Board and Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, both which oversee the public school system. 

All of the members of those boards are appointed by the governor and legislative leadership, except for the superintendent for public instruction, who sits on all three boards, and the governor who sits on the Board of Regents. Those two positions are elected every four years.

“In the last 20 years, Latinos students haven’t done better,” Avila said. “Not having us at the table is not acceptable when almost half of the students are Latino. And the folks we have in office… is not working. Let us try it.” 

He added ALL in Education’s motto is: “Nothing about us, without us.”

Since 2014, Latinos have been the largest group of students enrolled in Arizona’s pre-K through 12 classrooms. They account for 45% of Arizona’s 1.1 million students, according to Arizona Department of Education figures

In 2004, minortiy (non-White) students became the majority in Arizona schools, according to the Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center. The state as a whole will become “majority-minority” around 2030, population projections show. 

For nearly two decades, scholars and advocacy groups have made the case to state leaders and business stakeholders that what is good for Latino students is good for Arizona. 

“It is critically important to Arizona that Latinos — the largest and fastest-growing segment of its population — achieve a better education and attend college in greater numbers than they do now. A well-educated populace is the most important resource to attract and retain business and industry,” an 2002 report from Arizona State University stated. 

Latino students continue to trail behind their White peers in high school graduation rates, and proficiency in math and reading in grades 4 and 8. 

The achievement gap is especially wide for English learner students, who speak a language other than English at home. In 2017, about 34% of English learners graduated high school within four years in Arizona, compared to the 80% four-year graduation rate for all students in the state. Nationally, the graduation rate for English learners that year was 67%, according to a Migration Policy Institute analysis

UnidosUS, a national Latino advocacy group formerly known as National Council of La Raza, has been involved locally in efforts to improve educational equity for Latino students. The group applauded the launch of ALL in Education.

“We need to forge and elevate our voice, and be in places of decision making power if we are going to make systemic change,” said Amalia Chamorro, associate director of UnidosUS’ education policy project. 

UnidosUS is advocating locally for the repeal of the state’s English-only law, a change that was backed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers last year and currently being pushed by Kathy Hoffman, the state’s education chief.

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