Inside the U.S. Government’s New Investment in Latino Education


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Education is critical in childhood development, yet Latino kids across the U.S. face systemic injustices in their schools and communities.

Whether it is living in child care deserts, language issues and immigrant status, unengaged parents, childhood trauma, discipline, segregated school districts, and a lack of state funding in—many Latinos are left behind in education compared to their white peers.

That’s why the U.S. government is taking action for Latino education, according to a recent executive order signed by President Joe Biden in September 2021.

“We must enable Hispanic and Latino students to reach their highest potential through our Nation’s schools and institutions of higher education,” the executive order says. “The Federal Government must also collaborate with Hispanic and Latino communities to ensure their long-term success.”

The Executive Order and Its Impacts

The “White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics” tackles several key issues impacting Latino students.

The order has 12 aims:

  1. Increasing understanding of systemic causes of educational challenges faced by many Latino students
  2. Increasing Latino children’s and families’ access to and participation in high-quality early childhood programs
  3. Addressing the inequitable treatment of Latino children
  4. Supporting and improving data collection related to Latino students
  5. Ensuring all Latino students have access to excellent teachers, school leaders, and other professionals
  6. Enhancing student support services and fostering positive engagement among schools, families, community leaders, and community-based organizations
  7. Promoting a positive school climate that supports equitable access to and participation in academic opportunities Education Latino Students Improve K-12
  8. Ending policies that lead to racial and socioeconomic segregation among and within schools
  9. Ensuring equitable access to educational resources, professionals, and technology
  10. Breaking down barriers that impede the access of higher education institutions that serve Latino students
  11. Advancing racial equity and economic opportunity by connecting education to labor market needs through programs
  12. Ensuring that Latino communities have access to resources for economic success

To start, Biden chose U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to serve as chairman of the initiative, which will be established within that department.

The Department of Education will enlist the help of 24 departments within its structure, as well as other federal agencies, to create a working group. The group will collaborate to implement various strategies for different communities.

“[The initiative will] identify and promote evidence-based best practices that can provide Hispanic and Latino students with a rigorous and well-rounded education in safe and healthy environments, as well as access to support services, that will improve their educational, professional, economic, and civic opportunities,” according to the order.

In addition, Biden’s order establishes a Presidential Advisory Commission that will provide guidance to the president on related topics in both K-12 and higher education.

Biden’s executive order notes that 14 million of 50 million students in elementary and secondary schools are Latino, yet Latino students are underrepresented in early-education programs and advanced coursework in the nation’s schools.

For education advocates, these kinds of advancements are needed now to save disadvantaged children from a lacking education, according to Feliza Ortiz-Licon, the chief policy and advocacy officer for Latinos in Education, a nonprofit group focused on increasing Latinos’ representation in education and tackling education inequities.

“We were already facing so many inequities that this pandemic was a breeding ground for further inequities,” Ortiz-Licon said. “We feel that with everything the Latino community has gone through that this is really a time for us to reimagine the state of Latino education.”

Moreover, the Biden Administration believes this executive order is necessary for the future of this country.

“The Nation’s future prosperity and global leadership across industries is … tied to the success of Hispanic and Latino students,” the order says. “Their success is a priority.”

Latino Education from a Bird’s Eye View

Racial/ethnic disparities in education are not new.

Latino children often start developmentally behind their peers, according to a Salud America! research review.

Reasons mentioned earlier include living in child care desertslanguage issues and immigrant statusunengaged parentschildhood traumadisciplinesegregated school districts, and a lack of state funding in districts with lots of students of color.

Now COVID-19 is worsening many of these inequities.

Latino students are now 200% more likely to forgo college plans than their white peers, according to Inside Higher Education.

“The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which millions of students fill out each year for college aid, reports about 7% fewer high school applicants compared to last year,” Anne Dennon with Best Colleges writes. “Among schools with a Black and Latino/a student enrollment of 75% or higher, 18% fewer students have submitted the FAFSA. In total, FAFSA applications from high school students are down 10%.”

Moreover, Latino parents have become less able to take on debt during COVID-19.

This is contributing to the decline in their children becoming college students, according to a recent Public Viewpoint survey.

The survey found that:

  • 35% of Americans have canceled or changed their education plans, including delaying enrollment, reducing courses, or switching institutions.
  • Of the students that were likely to have canceled or delayed their plans:
    • 32% were Latino
    • 24% were Black
    • 21% were Asian American
    • 16% were white

“To support a highly educated workforce, develop future leaders, and build a more inclusive democracy and economy, we must ensure Latino students thrive,” U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla said in a recent press release.

What You Can Do for Latino Students

In their recent report, America’s Promise Alliance and Research for Action recommend the following steps to help high schoolers:

  1. Address student mental health, now and on an ongoing basis.
  2. Teach a comprehensive and accurate history of race and racism in the United States.
  3. Prioritize postsecondary success through relevant content and pathways planning.
  4. Saturate young people’s environments with caring adult relationships.

We can also do our part to help Latino teenagers with mental health issues.

Eliminating the stigma against mental illness can be the first step.

“People tend to associate mental health with cosa de locos, I’m crazy, or there’s something wrong with me. It’s so important to normalize the experience,” said Dr. Luz Garcini, psychologist and epidemiologist at UT Health San Antonio.

Having more bilingual and culturally relevant mental health resources is also important. These bilingual materials from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) can help Latinos learn about mental health treatment.

We can also help children who witness traumatic events, like domestic violence or murder.

These kids still have to go to class or carry on while school is out for summer or due to the pandemic. They face a burden of stress and trauma that can interfere with their behavior and grades—and schools often aren’t even aware there’s an issue.

Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack.”

The Action Pack helps police, school, and mental healthcare leaders start the Handle with Care program, in which police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away. They can virtually support kids if school is out for summer or still closed due to COVID-19.




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