UnidosUS is closing out 2021 celebrating three major legislative victories related to its advocacy for Latino students and English learners (ELs) in California. These wins come at a critical time in our nation’s civil rights history and amid the exacerbation of inequities faced by high-need students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For decades, UnidosUS has fought the impacts of systemic structural discrimination and bias in the U.S. education system on Latino students by publishing reports, providing testimony, and advocating for Latino success, especially in states like California which have high numbers of Latinos and ELs. UnidosUS has fought the impacts of systemic structural discrimination and bias in the U.S. education system on behalf of Latino students by publishing reports, providing testimony, and advocating for Latino students’ success, especially in states like California which have high numbers of Latinos and multilingual learners. UnidosUS pushed for the passing of the following legislation in California because these policies seek to improve conditions for these students and provide them with an educational experience that better responds to their linguistic, cultural, and financial realities.
AB 101: Mandatory K-12 Ethnic Studies
AB 101 requires all high school students complete a one-semester course in ethnic studies, meeting specified requirements to graduate. This year, California become the first state to require ethnic studies in high school. UnidosUS wrote to the California Senate Education Committee expressing support for AB 101 because it would help ensure that high school students have access to an ethnic studies course before they graduate, thus improving academic outcomes for Latinos. UnidosUS also used its online presence to published a blog on the bill.
“As civil unrest and racial tension have risen across the nation, ethnic studies provides hope for fostering understanding and unity,” wrote California State Assembly member Jose Medina, the bill’s sponsor.
UnidosUS agrees. The ongoing national debate over critical race theory is one example of such a tension, and hopefully this new requirement for California students, will combat the rhetoric.
The requirement of ethnic studies is of critical importance in the nation, but especially in a state like California where 78% of the students are non-white and 55% are Latinos. This law guarantees that students graduating from California schools have a more complete understanding of the state and country.
AB 469: Required FAFSA Submission
The second success was the passage of AB 469 which requires a school district, county office of education, or charter school to ensure that high school seniors, who have not opted out, complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or submit a form for the of the California Dream Act.
According to the report Dreams Interrupted: A Mixed-Methods Study Assessing Latino College Completion, a major factor for Latino students’ ability and willingness to enroll and complete postsecondary education was an aversion to taking on debt. In the report, UnidosUS noted that Latino students who come from economically vulnerable communities often feel they have to choose between financial security and higher education.
Learning how to fill out and complete the FAFSA form can change that perception for students. It ensures that they will apply for grants they qualify for, reducing the amount of loans and debt they take on. . It also provides an opportunity to understand the financial resources available to them.
AB 1363: Data Collection on Dual Language Learners
The third win for Latino children and youth in California is the passing of AB 1363. It requires the collection of key data on Dual Language Learners (DLLs) in the California State Preschool Program. UnidosUS has spent many years advocating at the federal level and state for additional data collection on English Learners (Els), who are also referred to as DLLs.. There are nearly five million multilingual students nationwide, and the majority of them are in California. According to our publication, “California Latino Students & English Learners Fast Facts 2020-21,” in the 2018-2019 school year there were approximately 1.2 million ELs in California public schools.
In September 2021, UnidosUS sent Governor Newsom a letter pushing him to support AB 1363 because it is first critical step toward gathering key data about DLLs in the California State Preschool Program. The data will help guide instruction, build on DLLs’ language assets and needs, and support quality early learning.
While these legislative victories are important, UnidosUS work does not end with the passage of these laws. UnidosUS will continue to work to ensure that the implementation of these new laws fulfills the intended purpose, and support Latino student success.
Author Esmeralda López is UnidosUS’s California State Director