Researchers suggest that by about 2035, Arizona will become a majority-minority state and by about 2042, a Latino-majority state. With those statistics in mind, panelists at a community forum Wednesday in Yuma spoke about their concerns as to what that could mean for the future of Arizona and its economy if the achievement gap in education between the growing population of Latino students and non-Hispanic white students is not addressed.
David Daugherty, Arizona State University Morrison Institute of Public Policy director of research, shared information from the "Dropped? Latino Education and Arizona's Economic Future" report, available for download in its entirety at MorrisonInstitute.asu.edu. It indicated that if demographic trends of Latinos continue to grow as they have been, Arizona is in for a troubling future.
After highlighting research in the report that shows that Latinos across Arizona statistically have a lower graduation rate and fewer percentages of students that go on to college and receive a degree, he explained that those statistics do not bode well with the research that shows that the more education you have, the more likely you are to be employed.
U.S. census numbers from 2009 showed that for Hispanics 25 years and older, 39.1 percent had less than a high school education, 26.2 percent had a high school diploma or an equivalent, 22.1 had some college or an associate's degree and 12.6 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher. This is compared with a non-Hispanic white population with 9.6 percent who have less than a high school degree, 29.3 percent have a high school diploma or equivalent, 30 percent have some college or an associate's degree and 31.1 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.
If education is not improved in Arizona for students, said Daugherty, that could mean diminished purchasing power, sluggish consumer demand and flat per-capita tax revenues in addition to more poverty, unemployment, Arizonans without health insurance and a greater demand for government services.
"This doesn't have to be the future if we do some kind of intervention and something to help improve the education system ... this doesn't have to be the future of our state."
Speakers and panelists at the forum shared various strategies being used around the state and in Yuma to close the education gap.
In addition to Daugherty, panelists included John Fisher, executive director, Stand for Children; James Sheldahl, associate superintendent, Yuma Union High School District; and Joseph Garcia, director of Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center.
Sheldahl said that to help students succeed, they need a place where they feel a sense of belonging, to have an opportunity for mastery, to be recognized for their achievements. Through YUHSD's Ready Now Yuma program, he said, he believes that type of environment is taking shape on their campuses with a districtwide mission that a rigorous curriculum is available for every student in addition to support if they fall behind.
Key strategies shared by Fisher included addressing the academic needs of students in preschool, possibly extending public school days for students and allowing for all students to have the opportunity to take the ACT exam.
Garcia added that these issues as well as the success stories need to be better communicated to policymakers so change can begin to take place. In regards to the lack of funding, he said policymakers should be encouraged to make education the No. 1 priority by explaining that fixing these issues is ultimately an investment in the future of the state.
"We must work together, live together and succeed together," Garcia said. "There is only one Arizona -- there cannot be two, as data suggest exists today and even more so tomorrow if we allow two populations to be separated by inequities ranging from education to opportunity to financial security.
"There must be integrated balance to strengthen our state's collective sustainability and chances for future success. And that begins with a greater understanding and appreciation of changing demographics, shifting dynamics and nuanced complexities in public policy," Garcia added.
At the end of the statewide presentation tour, a white paper will be issued in the spring on information gathered from communities around Arizona.
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