Many Nevada Education Boards Lack Hispanic Representation

Hispanic leaders in Nevada are calling attention to an important education issue that takes place outside of the classroom — the lack of Hispanic representation on many of the state’s elected education boards.

Even in the Clark County School District, where about 44 percent of the students are Hispanic, there was no Hispanic member until recently. When a vacancy came open, the board voted to appoint a Hispanic to the seven-member board earlier this month.

“As a board we do not reflect the diversity of our district,” school board president Carolyn Edwards said according to a Las Vegas Sun story.  “Improving that ratio is important.”

Hispanic leaders are trying to encourage more Latinos to run for eduction boards.

Illustrating the importance of representation, the newspaper mentions how Hispanic state lawmakers helped push through $50 million in funding for English Language Learners.

Currently the Nevada Board of Education only has one Hispanic member and the Nevada Board of Regents has never had a Hispanic member. Both boards are elected.

Former Clark County board member Jose Solorio recalled how his Hispanic background helped offer insights into the community. He told the Sun that when the district wanted to use bond money in 1998 mostly on building schools and not on remodeling him, he persuaded them to use the funds more equitably. He argued that more low-income Hispanic children lived in the older schools that needed updates.

“It wasn’t the right thing to do to ignore the existing schools,” Solorio told the Sun. “That’s where the majority of Latinos and African Americans live.”

Related Links:

“Nevada’s Hispanics Work to Boost Representation on Education Boards,” Las Vegas Sun.

“CCSD Board Chooses State BOE Member to Fill Vacancy,” Las Vegas Sun.

Creating Geographic Districts Could Boost Latino School Board Representation in California

Do your local school board members reflect the student demographics of the district they serve? In Pasadena, California, and in many districts across the country with Latino student majorities, the answer is no. According to the California Department of Education, about 59% of the Pasadena Unified School District’s 19,802 students are Latino. But only one of the seven school board members elected is Latino.

On June 5, voters will decide whether to switch from an at-large system to creating designated geographic voting districts that could increase the influence of minority voters in determining the composition of the board. In Pasadena, the mayor, the NAACP chapter, and leaders from the Latino and Armenian communities support creating districts, reports The Pasadena Sun. Pasadena Unified has posted maps and other documents related to the districting task force online.

“There will be greater opportunities all around for representation,” said Pasadena Youth Center executive director Stella Murga, as reported by Pasadena Weekly. “I think it would encourage more minorities to run and vote.”

On the other side, critics say districts could cause infighting and create racial tensions.

But supporters believe that if voting districts are coincide with the neighborhoods where the majorities of the populations are Latino, those voters are more likely to elect a Latino candidate. In the existing at-large system, the larger pool of voters overall may weaken the ability of Latino voters to select their preferred candidate.

The Pasadena vote comes as other local school boards in California recently have been challenged by voting rights lawsuits that say at-large elections don’t give fair representation to minority voters. The 2002  California Voting Rights Act and new 2010 Census data spurred many of these suits.

As a result, many  districts voluntarily changed their systems, often fearing the cost of a legal battle. According to California Watch, since 2009, 70 school boards have applied to the state board of education to switch to districts. They can either apply to the state to change over, or put it to a vote.

As education reporters, it’s important to take a look at the demographics of your local school districts. Does the school board reflect the population of the students enrolled? Have minority candidates run for office but lost every time?

I covered a voting rights lawsuit against the Irving Independent School District in Texas. The district currently has no Latino school board members, but more than 70% of the students are Latino. I began reporting on the issue about six years ago–before the lawsuit was filed–when it became apparent that Latino candidates were losing every time they ran.

Initially, the Texas lawsuit failed because a federal judge concluded that districts could not be drawn where the majority of voters were Latino because there were so many non-citizen immigrants residing in those same neighborhoods. But because the 2010 Census showed growing numbers of Latinos, the board approved moving forward with creating single-member geographic districts in January.

Even with voting districts, the combination of low voter turnout by Latinos and a high number of immigrant parents who can’t vote are still challenges to electing a diverse board.

I share my reporting experience because the story stretched out over a six-year period. Even if a lawsuit has not yet been filed and a new voting system isn’t being considered, it’s worth reporting if minorities are raising concerns about a lack of diversity among school board members in your community.