College access and immigration issues may leap-frog high on Washington policymakers' postelection to-do lists, thanks to the critical role that the Latino and youth vote played in helping President Barack Obama secure both the national popular vote and majorities in key swing states in winning re-election.
Advocates for young voters want lawmakers to make funding for college financial aid--including student loans and Pell Grants for low-income students--a priority as they try to cope with the "fiscal cliff," the automatic spending cuts and rise in taxes set to go into effect early next year unless Congress and the administration are able to come up with a way to avert them. Advocates also are hoping that policymakers can shore up the Pell Grant program, which faces a $7 billion shortfall, and act to avert a planned rise in student-lending interest rates.
For their part, Latino activists want to see comprehensive immigration reform, along with a renewed focus on the needs of English-language learners, minority students, and other special populations in discussion of the long-awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Seventy-five percent of Latino voters supported Mr. Obama, compared with 23 percent for his Republican opponent, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, according to a poll of 5,600 Latino voters conducted Nov. 2-5, on the eve of the presidential election, by ImpreMedia and Latino Decisions, a polling firm based in Seattle. Such voters proved important in critical states won by Mr. Obama, including Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico. In fact, if 35 percent of Latinos had voted for Mr. Romney, the president would not have won the popular vote nationally, according to the poll.
In the survey, Latinos ranked education as the third-most-important national issue, behind only the economy and immigration. That ranking could strengthen the hand of Latino groups when it comes to negotiating the renewal of the ESEA, whose current version is the No Child Left Behind Act, said Raul Gonzalez, the director of the education policy project at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group based in Washington.
"We hope they listened and paid attention to what happened on Election Day," he said, referring to both Congress and the president. "We would hope that they don't start with last year's bills. ... We cannot go back to the community and say we support a bill where you cannot easily find Hispanic and ELL kids and [understand] how their needs are going to be addressed."
Mr. Gonzalez and other advocates for Latinos expressed concern with the direction of the ESEA-reauthorization discussions in Congress after both the House and Senate education committees approved bills that would have given states and districts much more leeway in setting goals for students in particular subgroups, including English-learners, disadvantaged students, and members of racial and ethnic minorities. The bills would also have largely left it up to states to decide how--and whether--to intervene in schools that missed the mark for those populations.
'The Fight for 2013'
Immigration is also poised to take center stage in the next session of Congress with many advocates pushing for legislation that would include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already living in the United States.
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