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September 30, 2014

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Report: Nevada Hispanics face many obstacles to scholastic, financial success

Bleak picture of student success emboldens push for reform

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Steve Marcus

First grade student Angel Rosales and his sister Marisol look over one of Angel’s compositions during a parent-teacher conference at Lois Craig Elementary School in North Las Vegas Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Marisol helped her mother with some translation. About 80 percent of students at the school are Hispanic.

Hispanics in Nevada are trailing their counterparts in Western states when it comes to education and access to jobs and business opportunities, according to a new report from the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.

“The idea of investing in this infrastructure of opportunity benefits everybody, but we chose to focus on Latinos because it’s a growing and increasingly significant portion of the population,” said Nancy Brune, Guinn Center executive director. “Things like education, access to capital, infrastructure of opportunity, we need to make sure we provide that or there can be a long term fiscal impact. There will be forgone revenues from taxes, increasing costs for health care, and there is a link between poverty, illiteracy and higher prison populations. If we don’t think of how to grow opportunities in Nevada, we could suffer long term fiscal impacts.”

The report, The State of Latinos in the Intermountain West, compares education, economic, housing and health care data regarding Hispanics in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Utah, and makes recommendations for improvement. It's the first report from the Las Vegas-based Guinn Center, a non-profit think tank that launched last year.

The findings bolster the growing chorus of Hispanic community leaders demanding more resources for education and a reconfigured structure for governing higher education in the state.

In 2013, the Nevada Legislature appointed a committee to study community college funding and governance. Last month, the Latino Leadership Council submitted a letter to the committee saying community college governance is a top three priority for the council in the 2015 legislative session and advocating for the creation of locals boards to control community colleges. The graduation rate at Nevada’s community colleges is 16 percent, according to the Guinn report.

“When community colleges fail to perform or are run poorly, those that are hardest hit are poor families and first-generation college-goers,” wrote Sylvia Lazos, co-chair of the Latino Leadership Council’s education committee. “If Nevada is going to improve the college preparedness of its workforce, it must start by demanding that community colleges improve their performance level.”

In June, the legislative committee recommended the creation of a subsystem within the Nevada System of Higher Education to oversee community colleges, including a new vice chancellor position.

Tom Rodriguez, who oversaw the Clark County School District's diversity and affirmative action programs until his retirement last year after three decades in education, said more must be done to address higher education governance.

“For us, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “We don’t have access and we don’t have representation. Why wouldn’t we want a system that’s more open and local?”

Rodriguez also said the state should take more proactive measures to take advantage of federal grant programs for schools meeting certain requirements for minority and Hispanic enrollment and other criteria. A more concerted effort at recruiting students out of high schools is needed, he said. Currently none of Nevada’s colleges or universities are eligible for grant money, but a few are making progress.

“That money would help everyone,” said Magdalena Martinez, director of education programs at UNLV’s Lincy Institute, pointing out that states with a smaller proportion of Hispanics, such as Kansas, already have a few designated Hispanic Serving Institutions.

“The money comes from the U.S. Department of Education, and it is very broadly defined how colleges can use those resources. It can be spent on faculty, buildings, student services and programs.”

Martinez, who would like to see separate agencies governing four-year colleges and the community colleges, said the legislative committee’s plan to add a vice chancellor to NSHE for community colleges has been tried before and was not successful.

“They’re not addressing the issue of governance from my perspective,” she said.

Rodriguez said more Hispanics and other minorities are needed at the administrative level of school governance, both K-12 and higher education. NSHE has never had a Hispanic person elected to its board, even though Hispanics make up 25 percent of Nevada’s college students and 45 percent of the state’s K-12 population.

A recent report from the Center for American Progress found that in 2011, 9 percent of Nevada’s teachers were Hispanic, while 39 percent of the student population was Hispanic. The gap is one of the largest in the nation.

“Teachers of color can serve as role models for students of color … and when students see teachers who share their racial or ethnic backgrounds, they often view schools as more welcoming places,” the report states.

Rodriguez said CCSD had come a long way in improving its recruitment of minority educators, but can still improve. In other states, teachers who are bilingual are awarded greater salaries, he said.

“The system has been set up to fail. The demographic has been growing and the system has remained stagnant,” he said. “We are going to be graduating 10,000 Hispanic students a year from high school soon, and what the hell is Nevada going to do with them? It’s not just money. People just don’t give a damn. I’ve seen kids advanced just because of age … they are not getting the attention they need and it’s a formula for failure.”

Clark County School District Trustee Stavan Corbett, who grew up in the school system and has a son in high school, pointed to recent initiatives such as new state funding for ELL programs as steps in the right direction, but agreed more progress is needed. In order to better compete for federal dollars, the funding must first come locally so that the infrastructure is in place to compete with other states for grants, he said.

“I think we are on the right rack,” Corbett said. “The legislature is taking action and looking at the issues, businesses are getting involved and more than ever there’s a group of diverse community members that recognize the impacts moving forward. The support and partnerships with nonprofits and businesses hasn’t been there before.”

Brune and the Guinn Center report cite the implementation of the Job’s for America’s Graduate program through the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (a multi-year program for at-risk youth), the additional ELL funding, and increased focus on achieving Hispanic Serving Institution status for Nevada colleges as positive steps forward.

“The legislature addressing community college governance, affordability and access is critical to building the infrastructure of opportunity,” she said. “Building access to capital for everyone, not just Latinos but everyone, is critical and there’s some indication the legislature is looking into those areas. … Thinking about how we can improve access to capital and workforce development is a win-win situation for everyone..”

Report: The State of Latinos in the Intermountain West

Key education findings

• In 2011-2012, Nevada’s overall graduation rate ranked second lowest in the nation, and lowest in the region (Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California and Colorado). The graduation rates for minorities and ELL students are also at or near the bottom.

• Nevada’s community college graduation rate compared to the other states in the region, but it’s four-year college graduation rate was the lowest for the intermountain west at 38 percent.

• Nevada and Utah are the only states in the region with no Hispanic Serving Institutions, a federal designation that provides grant opportunities for schools with a minimum of 25 percent Hispanic enrollment, although Nevada has five that are progressing toward the designation and Utah has none.

• Nevada has the second lowest percentage of Hispanics with high school degrees and the lowest percentage of Hispanics with some post-secondary education or higher in the region.

• More than 70 percent of Clark County School District English Language Learner students have been categorized as ELL for more than six years, and are considered “long-term ELLs.”

• Nevada has the highest rate of Hispanics not in preschool in the region.

Other findings

• Nevada was tied with Utah for the fewest number of Hispanic serving non-profit community organizations, defined as organizations that are members of National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights group.

• In 2010, Nevada ranked last in the nation in per capita federal expenditures.

• Graduating 90 percent more Hispanic students from high school would increase wages in the state $20 million, and increase annual spending $16 million.

• Nevada has the lowest amount of affordable housing units for households earning less than 30 percent of median income, and second lowest amount for households between 30-50 percent of median income.

• Nevada is tied with Utah for the fewest number of microenterprise organizations in the region, spurring a reliance on high-interest payday loans according to the report.

• On average, Nevada’s Hispanics are paid 69 cents for every dollar earned by non-Hispanics.

Key recommendations

• Expand early childhood education, including funding and outreach for low-income families.

• Expand and support the Jobs for America’s Graduates Program, a state-based non-profit organization dedicated to preventing at-risk students from dropping out.

• Institute a state need-based grant program to provide financial aid for low-income students attending community college.

• Increase the number of counselors, particularly bilingual ones, at schools and workforce development centers.

• Offer bilingual workforce training curriculae and increase the number of bilingual certificate programs.

• Support and build microenterprise institutions and the Community Development Financial Institutions of Nevada.

• Take legislative steps to regulate payday lenders, perhaps capping interest rates as other states have done.

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