This White House Official says Latino education is the “biggest civil rights issue” of our generation
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz held a roundtable with Latino-focused media outlets to discuss education.
By EMILY DERUY
White House officials said the country cannot have a strong economy without an educated Latino population during a roundtable discussion on Wednesday.
Calling the education of Latinos “arguably the biggest civil rights issue” of this generation, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz said education is “at the heart of” President Obama’s economic strategy.
Muñoz and Secretary of Eduction Arne Duncan said they are encouraged by the growing number of Latinos seeking higher education, but also worried about the country’s ability to compete on the global level.
The U.S. is ranked 16th globally in college completion, and a quarter of all high school students fail to graduate from high school on time. Obama has said he would like to be leading the world in college completion rates by 2020, but that would require the college completion rate to rise to 60 percent from 42 percent, a somewhat daunting prospect.
Duncan and Muñoz criticized Republicans in Congress for failing to work with Democrats on comprehensive education reform, and lambasted presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, for promoting a budget that would cut funding for Pell grants and reduce the number of slots in the federal student readiness program Head Start by 100,000.
“We see education as an investment and I think other folks see it as an expense,” Duncan said.
Duncan indicated he was particularly opposed to the Head Start cuts, and said the best investment in education the country can make is to ensure “our babies [are] ready for kindergarten.”
He stressed the need for a “diversified” teacher workforce, and said “the goal has to be college and careers for every single person.”
Duncan said the administration wants to “level the playing field” for Latinos, and arm workers with the skills needed to fill high-level job openings. He cited healthcare, green energy and IT as promising fields.
Duncan added that American students need to be competitive on the global job market, and cautioned that countries ranked ahead of the U.S. in education — Russia, the United Kingdom, Israel, and South Korea — are not “sitting back” and waiting for the U.S. to catch up.
Duncan said part of the challenge stems from the fact that funding for education comes from all levels of government — federal, state, and local — and so the amount of money spent per student varies widely. Many districts have scaled back on after school, art, music, and physical education programs, and some have even gone to four-day weeks in the face of tightening budgets.
Muñoz said Congress could help by ending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and cited the recent vote to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling as evidence that Republicans and Democrats can work together.
Regarding the recent implementation of the deferred action program for some undocumented youth, Duncan said it is up to states to decide whether to allow those granted the two-year deferral in-state tuition.
“We’re very supportive,” Duncan said, “and we’re very appreciative of the lead Republicans and Democrats are showing on this across the country.”