By Joe Ibarra, Field Organizer and Capacity-Building Strategist, NCLR
In late September, as National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Affiliate leaders from throughout Texas gathered in Austin for their annual fall meeting, it was decided that they would, collectively, focus their advocacy efforts in the upcoming Texas legislative session on restoring the $5.4 billion that was cut from the education budget during the 2011 session. Programs such as full-day pre-K, parent engagement, bilingual education, after-school, credit recovery, and dropout prevention—largely attended by Latinos—were cut drastically or done away with altogether. It was clear, as our Texas Affiliates voiced strongly through a unanimous vote, that we could no longer sit on the sidelines as Texas legislators were making decisions that were negatively impacting so many Latino students, especially as the Latino student population continues to grow.
In the months since September, our Texas Affiliates have dedicated countless hours to ensuring that funds cut from the Texas education budget are restored. They participated in rallies with other advocacy groups, urged their staff and clients to call their legislators, held workshops to write and send letters to their legislators, held in-district meetings, and participated in the relaunch of the NCLR Texas Latino Advocacy Day—during which, over 200 participants met with 125 Texas legislative offices. All of their hard work culminated this past weekend as the Texas legislature passed a budget that put $4 billion back into education.
Although a definite step in the right direction, the budget left a lot to be desired. In a state that ranks 48th in per student spending, when we account for new student population growth per student, spending is still considerably below prerecession levels and will stay flat at best. This comes at a time when we’ve recently learned that Latino students make up nearly 51% of the Texas student population. Currently, 46% of Latino fourth graders and 62% of English language learner fourth graders in Texas read below grade level, and Latino students are nearly two times more likely to leave school without a diploma than White students.
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. While NCLR and our Texas Affiliates take momentary solace in the restoration of $4 billion into the Texas education budget, we know there is much to be done. We must continue to pressure Texas legislators to take the appropriate steps to ensure that we have the means to adequately educate our Latino students today so that we can have a prosperous and vibrant Texas tomorrow.