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Hispanic youths are key to state’s future

Citizen Staff Writer

Tucson is returning to its roots – to a time when Hispanic children outnumbered white children in local schools.

Many recognize this sea change as an opportunity to take stake of where we are and a clarion call to begin planning for a community increasingly different than the one many of us have known.

Tucson has been part of the United States for only 152 years, since Mexico sold this part of the continent in the December 1853 Gadsden Purchase.

Whites have been the majority for much of the past 1-1/2 centuries, but that is about to change, beginning with the young.

In Tucson today, 47 percent of those under age 15 are Hispanic – compared with 42 percent who are white. Hispanics make up 32 percent of the total population and are the fastest-growing segment among the young. So it won’t be long before Hispanics are the largest segment of the entire population.

‘Different races, not different people’

What does that mean? Eleven-year-old Gary Sousa, who recently was interviewed by the Tucson Citizen, put it in the proper perspective: “It’s different races, not different people,” he said.

Also important is the observation of Ray Chavez, multicultural curriculum specialist for the Tucson Unified School District: “Those kids who are 15 now will be old enough to vote in a couple of years, and a couple of years after that, hopefully, they will be buying homes, and we hope some of them will begin to run for office.”

But who will these people be? Who will be running this state in a generation?

Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy addressed this trend in 2001 with its report, “Five Shoes Waiting to Drop on Arizona’s Future.”

One of those “shoes” was the “Latino Education Dilemma.” The study noted the problem and the promise of Arizona’s growing Hispanic school-age population.

The problem: In the fifth grade, Hispanic students fall far behind their white peers in AIMS test scores in all subjects. By the 10th grade, Hispanics are further behind.

The promise: As many states suffer labor shortages because of modest growth, Arizona is growing. With a good education, Hispanics are upwardly mobile. Hispanics born in Arizona make up much of their parents’ economic and educational deficits in a single generation.

Education is crucial

Clearly, a solid education for all young people is key to Arizona’s future. But when it comes to Hispanics, the state has failed. For proof, one need look no further than the 15-year legal battle over funding English language learning programs – a battle that remains unresolved.

The Morrison Institute study had several innovative suggestions including development impact fees for literacy programs, guaranteed college financial aid and a federal education initiative for border states.

There also are all-day kindergarten, higher pay for teachers and other steps that would improve Arizona’s educational system for all.

Our rapidly growing Hispanic community should be considered neither a burden nor a challenge. But this is a metamorphosis that must not catch us unprepared.

More online

To read “Five Shoes Waiting to Drop on Arizona’s Future,” go to this article online at www.tucsoncitizen.com/opinion.

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