When it comes to education issues and the upcoming election, Latina moms have some strong opinions. The recent media coverage of hot topics, such as the Dream Act movement and federal cuts to Pell grants, has helped keep the issues at the forefront for Latino families.
We talked to a few Latina moms, many of them bloggers who are particularly focused on education, to weigh in on the subject. Their concerns are wide and varied and, as might be expected, aligned with their children’s grade levels. One thing is clear: Education is paramount to Latina moms. This random sampling echoed the findings of two newly released Mamiverse studies. The first, The Mamiverse Study of Online Latina Moms and New Media, conducted in partnership with MediaFix, a multinational research firm, found that education was among the top two most important issues in the upcoming presidential election. Just over 6 out of 10 online Latina moms ranked education and jobs at the top of their lists. The study surveyed more than 1,000 English-dominant/bilingual Online Latina Moms between the ages of 25-59 years of age, with at least one child between the ages of 3-18. In a second Mamiverse poll of Latina mom voters in Florida, 32% polled agreed that immigration and the Dream Act topped the list as the most important issues affecting the Latino community and needing to be addressed by the President and Congress; 24 percent identified education and schools as the two most important issues. The poll of more than 300 Latina mothers, who are registered Florida voters, between the ages of 18 and 60, was conducted in partnership with Latino Decisions, a Washington, DC, based research firm and ImpreMedia.
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Among the many pressing education-related issues for these moms was the Dream Act, a bill that would provide permanent residency to undocumented children of undocumented workers who have shown a commitment to education and a desire to receive a college degree.
Eva Smith of southern California is a mother of three young adults. Issues that affect college-bound students tend to catch her attention. Although the Dream Act doesn’t apply to her children, she believes it is a valuable proposal.Smith says it’s very important not to penalize young adults for what their parents did and to give them a path to citizenship. “The USA has opened its doors to many other nations by granting them citizenship and residency,” Smith says. “We need to do the same for our neighboring countries south of the border. Many students don’t visualize college as an option because they lack the funds or the opportunity to qualify for programs because they don’t have citizenship or residency.”
The Mamiverse poll of Florida Latina moms showed that support for the Dream Act will be a major factor when choosing a candidate to support, with 71% reported being more likely to support a Dream Act-supporting candidate, compared with only 7% reporting being less likely and 16% saying that it would not affect their vote.
Smith also disagrees with the way the education budget is being handled: “I am appalled that the Administration is cutting the education budget by 100 billion dollars. Where are families with limited financial resources going to get help to send their kids to school?” And she’s concerned that there will no longer be a grace period for the repayment of Stafford loans, federal student loans that are common and among the lowest-cost loans for undergraduate and graduate students. “It’s tough out there for a lot of young adults graduating from college. Every time I think about budget cuts that affect education, all I can think about is the 700 billion dollars that was awarded to bail out Wall Street from mortgage and investment fraud. Makes me mad.”
MORE IMMEDIATE CONCERNS
Not surprisingly, though, many Latina mothers seem to be more concerned about immediate issues that directly impact their young children. Outside the DC Metro area, mother-of-two, Tracy López, says the disparity in education resources bothers her. “When you look at the kinds of learning tools and opportunities some children have in this country, and then look at the classrooms that lack even basic materials, the unfairness of it just makes me so angry. Add into the equation that not every child comes from a home with books, that not all parents read to their children daily, and the gap grows wider still.”
Schools across the country do vary in resources and funding. Initially, public school funding was largely provided by local property taxes, which resulted in unequal differences between the resources available in public schools located in low-income neighborhoods and those found in more affluent areas. In the 1970s, state legislatures implemented programs to reduce the disparity and equalize the spending. However, despite these programs, the disparity continues today.
BILINGUAL EDUCATION CONCERNS
Like a growing number of Latina moms, Texas mom Suzanne García Mateus, wants to see an increase in bilingual education opportunities. “I want to make sure my daughter has an opportunity to learn another language from K to 12th grade! It needs to be a priority.”
Mateus echoes the concerns of other moms, such as Fabiola Woerner Chamberlin, who is also looking for a president who is going to support more bilingual education programs nationwide. “There used to be an immersion program near my area, but it got cancelled before I had my first child,” says Chamberlin, who lives in Michigan. “[Now] there is nothing in my area. The closest one is an hour away, and it is very difficult to get there.”
Similarly, López thinks that 7th grade is too long to wait to begin learning a foreign language. “Children should be learning a second language from Pre-K in all public schools—not just in special private schools or programs,” López says. “The benefits to the students themselves—and our country as a whole—would be worth the investment. If they just tried it with one generation, I think they would see a dramatic shift in our economy and the way our citizens interact.”
SPECIAL EDUCATION CONCERNS
Other mothers are focused on the needs of special education. Karen Yjuan Morfin, would like to see that no school district, regardless of its size, be allowed to have its own SELPA, or Special Education Local Plan Area. SELPAs are a support service office that oversees and ensures that programs are available for all students with disabilities. They create guidelines on what types of therapies and services special needs children should receive in school. Typically they cover more than one district of equal size.
For example, small districts share their SELPA with other small districts, and big districts share with each other. Parents benefit from SELPAs in cases where a special needs child with the same diagnosis as another child is not receiving the same services. Parents may file a complaint to receive equal treatment. Karen says, though, that if a single district has its own SELPA, they could deny the child services by saying their district interpretation of the law is different, and that a specific child doesn’t qualify.
Carol Alvarez Cain is a mother of two with a long list of education issues weighing on her mind. Her family recently moved away from New York City because of the failing school system there. Now in New Jersey, she says that she’s not sure they would have ever left the city if it hadn’t been for their concerns with the schools.
Worried about overcrowded classrooms, unqualified/overworked teachers, limited/no resources for extracurricular programs such as the arts, and over testing, Cain reflects a growing number of Latina moms who have a lot of concerns about their children’s education.
Cain says she will be looking for candidates’ positions on education before deciding for whom to vote.
“A lot of the focus is on the economy and there’s a lot of chatter on this, but I need to know that education is on someone’s mind and high on the list of things that we need reformed in this country,” Cain says. “I will be paying attention to this as it affects my children and their future livelihood, especially considering how far we fall in our ability to compete in the ever-growing global economy.”