may 2011

Education Secretary Duncan Calls for “Plan B” to Help States Counteract NCLB’s Shortcomings

This month, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan announced his office is seeking to develop a "plan B" for saving schools from the impending "slow-motion train wreck" of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Secretary Duncan stated the plan would offer states flexibility in achieving NCLB standards in exchange for accountability-focused reforms.  "We will not, we will never abandon accountability," Duncan said.

NCLB has been criticized for its rigorous focus on reading and math, requiring 100 percent "proficiency" by its own standards by 2014.  The goal, described as “utopian”, is one of the reasons why Secretary Duncan has grown frustrated with stalled legislative efforts to revamp the law.

The re-authorization of the law is already four years overdue, and the Obama administration has called for the overhaul to conclude by this fall.  However, delays in Congress make this possibility seem unlikely. 

Duncan’s Plan B is an effort to address the outcome of what most education experts agree will be states failing to meet the above goal.  Schools that fail to measure up can face sanctions that include firing teachers and closing schools.

US Senate Holds DREAM Act Hearing

After nearly a decade of various versions being kicked around by Congress, the DREAM Act finally got its day on the Senate Floor at the end of June.  The first-time hearing for the proposed legislation was due in large part to the effort of President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) and Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) amongst many other leaders who have called for sensible comprehensive immigration reform.  At the packed Senate hearing, top administration officials said the U.S. economy would benefit from the skills and tax revenues of these would-be citizens.  However, Senators in opposition disputed the value of the DREAM Act and call instead for stricter border security to take place before moving forward with the legislation.

MALDEF Calls for Fairness in Implementation of Common Core State Standards

As state budgets for education face serious challenges in virtually every state, MALDEF is calling on public school parents, community leaders and education advocates to stay involved and informed in order to ensure the goal is achieved of having public schools everywhere provide education on the same set of core skills and knowledge.  The initiative is called Common Core State Standards, where 48 states and the District of Columbia worked together to develop a uniform set of common state standards for English-language arts and mathematics in grades K-12 that prepare students for college and career.

Currently, the quality of education varies depending on where students live, and some states have higher standards than others – a fact that may disproportionally impact Latino students.  Common Core State Standards help ensure all students, regardless of what state, city or school district they live in, will have access to a quality education.

Obama En La Isla Del Encanto

On June 14th, a holiday was declared to honor the occasion of President Barack Obama’s visit to Puerto Rico.  Obama’s trip to San Juan was the first official visit by a sitting U.S. President to the island since President Kennedy visited in 1961. 

The White House issued a statement describing the visit as more than just a stop on Obama’s itinerary but rather “an opportunity to highlight the federal government’s comprehensive approach to addressing critical issues that matter to the people of Puerto Rico, including status, economic development, job creation, education, health care and making Puerto Rico a model of clean energy.”  The President was greeted by Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, Maj. General Antonio J. Vicens, Adjutant General of Puerto Rico, Jose Aponte Dalmau, Mayor of Carolina, Puerto Rico, Jorge Santini, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico and singer Marc Anthony. 

During his speech, Obama turned the matter of status back to the people by stating: “First of all, we’ve addressed the question of political status.  In March, a report from our presidential task force on Puerto Rican status provided a meaningful way forward on this question so that the residents of the island can determine their own future.  And when the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”

The President also took the time to recognize the contributions of Puerto Ricans to society including our veterans and current Armed Services men and women, as well recognizing Marc Anthony for his work and the recent effort by NBA Champion and Dallas Maverick JJ Barera.  While on the island, Obama visited the famed Fortaleza as well as a surprise stop at La Kasalta Bakery, a local spot where he shocked local patrons during their lunch and ordered a Medianoche sandwich.

Politically, however, the island visit is seen by some as the President reaching out to the American Latino electorate at a time when the Democratic Party is facing criticism for not doing enough for the Latino community.  Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was outspoken in his disapproval: “Democrats have to recruit more Latino candidates and they have to start siding with Latinos on redistricting and other issues because many Latinos perceive that the party doesn't care enough about electing more Hispanic officials."

Immigration Update

On May 26, the U.S. Supreme Court split 5-3 upholding an Arizona law requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of workers and also gives the state the authority to take away the business license of companies who knowingly hire undocumented workers.  Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority divided by party lines, said Arizona's employer sanctions law "falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the states." 

Earlier in June, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed an anti-illegal-immigration bill that is being hailed the toughest in the nation.  The legislation includes provisions similar to those of Arizona’s SB 1070 – requiring police to ask for documentation from people they stop and penalizing businesses that knowingly employ undocumented immigrants – but the Alabama measure also requires public schools to determine the citizenship status of its students. 

Tracking copycat SB 1070 legislation in other states, Indiana, South Carolina and Georgia became the latest state to enact harsh immigration legislation.  Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill modeled on ones in Arizona and Utah, which includes provisions allowing police to ask for documentation and requiring businesses to check the immigration status of their employees.  Days ago, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed into law its immigration enforcement measure that creates strict guidelines for undocumented immigrants and will require police to check the status of anyone they stop and suspect may be in the country illegally.  Also, Indiana passed its version of the crackdown legislation in May but on June 24th, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker temporarily blocked the most controversial provisions of the bill. 

These newly enacted bills come amid a series of injunctions passed against the state immigration measures.  Each of these laws is expected to face further legal challenges that may ultimately have to be resolved by the Supreme Court under the argument that they violate the supremacy clause since only the federal government has the constitutional right to create and enforce immigration law.

Maryland GOP lawmakers are looking to stall the state’s version of the DREAM Act that passed on the final day of the 2011 legislative session.  The bill pending enactment extends in-state tuition to undocumented students who have lived in Maryland for three years and paid taxes.  Students must start at community colleges, but could transfer to four-year institutions like the University of Maryland after acquiring 60 credits.

The Maryland law had been scheduled to take effect July 1st, but it has been suspended while officials await a final tally of the signatures being gathered by opponents to send it to a statewide referendum in November 2012.  The effort is being led by an effective online campaign and is expected to exceed the 56,000 needed to suspend the law.

Finally, the Supreme Court upheld a California law giving undocumented students living there reduced in-state tuition rates at public universities, the same rates documented state residents enjoy.  California is one of a dozen states that make undocumented students conditionally eligible for in-state tuition.  With the Court’s ruling, those various laws will remain intact for now.

Study Finds Some State Legislators Become Change Agents Without Higher Degrees

The Chronicle of Higher Education has released a first-time look at where every state legislator in America went to college – or if they went at all.  Starting with data from Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan research organization, and expanding the scope with extensive research into more than 1,000 individual legislators, The Chronicle set out to see which is the least-educated legislature in America, which is the most educated, where all 7,000-plus legislators went to college, and why it may or may not matter.

Like most American students, the vast majority of state legislators went to public colleges.  Most stayed close to home.  Across the nation, many lawmakers attended community colleges.  Over all, about one in four legislators lack bachelor's degrees – unlike the general population where 28 percent of adults have a bachelor's.

The study also looked at the educational background of Members of Congress.  In Congress, almost every Member went to college.  Just four of the 535 have no higher education.  Compared with state lawmakers, congressmen are more likely to have gone to college outside their home state, more likely to have gone to a private institution, and more likely to have an advanced degree.  Three out of four U.S. senators have advanced degrees, and more than half of them are lawyers.  In the House, 65 percent of members have advanced degrees.

City of Chicago and Comcast Launch Public Private Partnership to Combat Digital Divide

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Comcast executives announced the debut of Internet Essentials – a broadband deployment program designed to help provide (1) affordable Internet access, (2) low-cost computer equipment, and (3) access to online, in print, and in person digital literacy training for eligible low-income families.  The program will be made available throughout the Comcast footprint in the Chicagoland area this fall.

Targeting households with student-age children, eligibility for the Internet Essentials program will be based on if they have at least one child eligible to receive a free school lunch through the National School Lunch Program and are located in communities in which Comcast offers Internet service. 

Mayor Emmanuel stated, “the program is a perfect example of the city's government and business community working together to craft innovative, competitive solutions to the important problems facing our citizens."  Recent studies have shown the economic impact of having broadband access. According to a study released by Connected Nation, a nonprofit group focused on improving broadband adoption across the U.S., a 7 percent increase in broadband adoption would create 2.4 million jobs and save $662 million in health-care costs and $6.4 billion in vehicle mileage, among other savings.

The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) is the preeminent organization representing the interests of 300 Hispanic state legislators from all states, commonwealths, and territories of the United States. Founded in 1989 as a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)3, NHCSL is a catalyst and advocate for joint action on issues of common concern, such as health, education, immigration, homeownership and economic development to all segments of the Hispanic community. NHCSL also works to design and implement policies and procedures that will impact the quality of life for Hispanic communities; serves as a forum for information exchange and member networking; an institute for leadership training; a liaison with sister U.S. Hispanic organizations; a promoter of public/private partnerships with business and labor; and a partner with Hispanic state and provincial legislators and their associations representing Central and South America. For more information visit www.nhcsl.org

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