New Voting Districts Increase Latino Representation on California College Board

Three Latinas were recently elected to the Cerritos College Board of Trustees in California–a landmark victory after the college switched its election system to comply with the California Voting Rights Act.

Following the 2010 Census, school districts and other entities that used at-large election systems came under fire for a lack of representation of their diverse populations.

To avoid lawsuits, many are voluntarily switching to a single-member voting district system, which can offer minority voters greater opportunities to elect candidates of their choice. Districts can be drawn in which the majority of voters are Latino, for example, in order to boost representation.  According to the group California Watch, about 70 school boards have applied to switch over to district elections since 2009.

A voting rights lawsuit was filed against Cerritos College last year on behalf of Latino voters who said they were not represented under the at-large system. The college said it was already changing its system when it was filed, and moved over to a single-member district system. In 2009-10, about 43 percent of students attending the southeast Los Angeles County college were Latino.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports that one of the plaintiffs in the suit against Cerritos College, Carmen Avalos, defeated an incumbent to win a seat on the board. She was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico as a child who later went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Cal State Long Beach. She now works as a city clerk.

“Now I feel we have equity,” she told the newspaper. “We have a board that now resembles our community.”

Do your local school and college boards reflect the diversity of their student body?

Related Links:

“District-voting system brings 3 Latinos to Cerritos College board.” Long Beach Press-Telegram. 

– “Creating Geographic Districts Could Boost Latino School Board Representation in California.” Latino Ed Beat. 

– “White-dominated boards face legal threats over racial makeup.” California Watch.

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Education is Top Issue for Latino Voters

Education hasn’t been one of the top issues being discussed in the run up to the presidential election. But for Latino voters, it is perhaps the most important issue.

A recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center shows just how important. Pew surveyed 1,765 Latino adults from throughout the country by telephone between Sept. 7 and Oct. 4. The group included 903 registered voters.

About 55 percent of Latino registered voters said education was extremely important to them, followed closely by jobs. Only about 34 percent of Hispanic voters said immigration was extremely important.

About 89 percent of the Latino adults surveyed (and 86 percent of registered Latino voters) said they supported President Obama’s deferred action plan, which will allow undocumented immigrant youth who grew up in the United States and meet certain requirements to stay in the country legally to study and apply for work permits. About 31 percent of Hispanic adults (and 26 percent of Latino registered voters) said they know someone who has applied for deferred action.

The same survey found that 69 percent of the Latino registered voters surveyed supported President Obama and 21 percent supported Mitt Romney.

This isn’t the first time a survey has found education to be a top concern. A poll by the Federation for Children and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options released in May found that 58 percent of Latinos agreed that “we need to hear more from the presidential candidates on how they will improve education.”

For registered voters, the margin of error was plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

Related Links:

– “Latino Voters Support Obama by 3-1 Ratio, but are less certain than Others about Voting.” Pew Hispanic Center.

– “Latino Voters Rank Education as a Top Issue.” Latino Ed Beat.

Democratic National Convention: Mayor Julián Castro Slips Pre-K Reference Into Keynote Speech

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro introduced himself to millions of Americans Tuesday night when he became the first Hispanic to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Squeezed into his speech supporting President Obama and telling his own story, he briefly mentioned a passion project of his own–increasing the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-kindergarten in San Antonio.

“We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity,” he said. “They’re a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”

Despite education being a key issue for Latinos, it so far has not been mentioned much in the run-up to the election.

In San Antonio, Castro has proposed a one-eighth-cent sales tax that would pay to expand full-day pre-K classes to more 4-year-olds. San Antonians will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote on the  Pre-K 4 SA proposal. The San Antonio Express-News reported that as locals watched the speech on television, former Northside Independent School District trustee Ray Lopez yelled “Sell it, boy! Sell it!”

According to a fact sheet from the mayor, about 5,700 4-year-olds in the city are eligible for state-funded Pre-K but are not enrolled in full-day programs. Some are not enrolled in any program and others attend half-day programs. He estimates that the tax could fund full-day classes for more than 22,000 children over an eight-year period. The city would open four education centers with classrooms, rooms for use by parents and teacher training space.

Castro proposed the pre-K initiative after a task force he commissioned recommended that expanding early learning would have the biggest impact on raising education levels in the city. Latino children have lower preschool attendance rates than both black and white children. The recent Kids Count study found that between 2008 and 2010, about 63 percent of Latino children did not attend preschool.

Castro believes the initiative will free teachers from slowing lessons down for children who weren’t in pre-K classes.

San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldana recently wrote a commentary in support of the proposal.

“The aim of the proposed initiative is not to replace the role of parents; it is simply to put more four-year-olds in front of a professional educator at a time they are most likely to be receptive to positive development,” he wrote.

There are some critics. Judson Independent School District trustee Steve Salyer wrote an opinion piece calling the initiative a “band-aid” that is only a stop-gap measure until the Texas Legislature needs to adequately fund public education.

Castro, a Mexican-American, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and grew up on the city’s economically depressed west side. About 95 percent of Jefferson’s students are Latino and 85 percent are economically disadvantaged. He graduated from Stanford University and then went on to attend Harvard Law School, often crediting affirmative action with getting them there. His wife is a trained teacher and he has a three-year-old daughter himself.

Castro also mentioned Pell grants and the new pathway to temporary legal status for undocumented immigrant students. He mentioned that  San Antonio also opened a program called Cafe College, offering students help with preparing for tests and filling out financial aid forms.

Related Links:

– Pre-K 4 SA fact sheet.

– “San Antonians cheer Castro’s DNC keynote address.” San Antonio Express-News.

– “Education attainment still outside S.A. grasp.” Julian Castro.

– “Catch-em while they’re young.” San Antonio Express-News.

– “Pre-K 4 SA just another Band-Aid.” San Antonio Express-News.