By Tony Castro
Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in Texas public schools, surpassing non-Hispanic whites in Lone Star State enrollment for the first time in history.
The dramatic change, though, has not been without major pressures on the already financially stressed school systems throughout the state, which ranks 48th in per-student spending. Many of those Latino students are from poor families – including recent immigrants – with major repercussions in classrooms.
And those pressures on the Texas school districts and teachers are expected to heighten as the Hispanic population continues to grow in the state.
“From the start, immigrant and working-class families and people of color don’t have the same opportunities,” says Kandace Vallejo, of the nonprofit Workers Defense Project in Dallas and Austin.
Latinos now comprise more than 50 percent of students in the Texas public schools. Newly released statistics by the Texas Education Agency show there are 2,480,000 Hispanic students in the state’s public schools, representing 50.2 percent of the total enrollment, which is 4,933,617.
These numbers are forcing some Texas school districts to question just how equipped they are to teach a burgeoning number of poor students who don’t speak English.
So far, studies by NCLR, Texas Familias Council and Texas Higher Education Journal show Texas schools have not been doing a good job teaching Hispanic children.
According to state figures, 46 percent of Latino fourth graders and 62 percent of English language learner fourth graders in Texas schools read below grade level.
Latino students are nearly twice more likely to leave school without a diploma than non-Hispanic white students.
Almost 40 percent of the state’s Latinos 25 or older did not complete high school, compared with 8 percent among non-Hispanic whites, according to the 2010 census.
“The statistics are staggering, especially for a state that has an economy that is vested in energy, computer technology, and defense — all industries that largely require education beyond a high school diploma,” says Joe Ibarra, a field organizer for the National Council of La Raza.
Texas legislators are under increasing pressure to restore $5.4 billion that was cut from the education budget during the 2011 session. Programs such as full-day pre-kindergarten, parent engagement, bilingual education, after-school education and dropout prevention —largely attended by Hispanics —were cut drastically or done away with altogether. Last month, the legislature restored $4 billion.
According to reports by the Texas Tribune and Mas Wired, some Texas school district are still bracing for the day when their enrollment is almost all low-income students, most of them Hispanic and many of those non-English speakers. Almost a fourth of Texas schools have a Latino student enrollment of at least 80 percent. Fifteen years ago, it was 16 percent.
Educators are concerned that if state schools fail to deal with shifting demographics and increased poverty, Latinos will continue winding up in low-wage jobs and increasingly dependent on social services.