Report calls for more investment in NC’s Latino students

Elsa Landeros remembers being called to her school’s front office many times when she was a student in Orange County Schools to translate for a new Latino student.

“Elsa, meet so-and-so, they just moved here. We were wondering if you could show them off a bit.

Landeros doesn’t recall her school ever having a bilingual staff member in the front office, so the task of guiding Spanish-speaking students often fell to students who spoke the language like herself.

“Honestly, most of the time the student was confused,” Landeros said. “How are you going to let one kid try to teach another kid the ropes of public school?”

Landeros is now a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill and is affiliated with LatinxEd, an advocacy nonprofit that recently released a report calling for greater public investment in educational support for Latino students.

Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in North Carolina schools, rising from 1 percent of the student population in 1990 to 18 percent of public school students now. A Report found by Carolina Demography Hispanic students accounted for nearly all of the growth in public school enrollment between 2000 and 2014.

“If anyone doubts we’re here, we’re here,” said LatinxEd’s Zamantha Granados. “I think it’s important that people take away that it’s worth investing in bilingual supports or bicultural representatives.”

As LatinxEd’s partnership manager, Granados led a statewide listening tour to help develop the report. Staff from the nonprofit organization conducted interviews and listening sessions with 250 participants representing 36 North Carolina counties to hear about educational issues affecting Latino students.

#SomosNC report calls for hiring Latino teachers and school staff, increasing funding for services to support Hispanic students and their families, and removing barriers to post-secondary education for undocumented students.

Granados says he describes “chronic disinvestment” as a lack of bilingual, culturally competent teachers, staff and services.

“Are there Spanish-speaking staff at the front desk?” Are there bilingual, bicultural, mental health counselors in a district? How much tax is levied on translators in one district?” Granados cites the measurement of investment as an example.

LatinxEd’s report advocates several public policy recommendations, including:

  • revise state funding allocations for schools that serve high percentages of students with limited English proficiency
  • Launch a state task force to support Hispanic-Serving Institutions, a federal designation for colleges and universities where Hispanic students make up at least 25 percent of enrollment
  • Change state law to allow undocumented students with long-term state residency to study in-state at public universities
  • restore access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and allow safe transportation to schools and colleges

The report also highlights many initiatives underway across the state — from programs that hire and support Latino teachers, to college counseling services for high school students, to school districts opening “newcomer schools” that cater to students new to the United States.

Investments like this will benefit the entire state, Granados argues, “because it will help more Latinos or multilingual speakers achieve a high-quality post-secondary degree, which will ultimately continue to strengthen the state.”

Copyright 2023 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

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