The DREAM Act, parent involvement and early education were just a few of the issues touched on in an online question and answer session addressing Hispanic education issues that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participated in on Wednesday. Duncan and Jose Rico, the director of the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, answered questions posted on Facebook and Twitter.
-The DREAM Act. Duncan voiced strong support for passage of the act and spoke favorably about states with laws providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students. “Either we’re going to keep young people on the margins of society not being productive or we’re going to have them in the mainstream helping make our country strong and great,” Duncan said.
-Parent engagement. Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta asked about this issue. Duncan said the department has asked Congress to double the budget for parent engagement programs from about $135 million a year to about $280 million. “Historically, our department has been part of the problem,” he said. “We have not invested enough in parental engagement.” He also said that schools should be community centers and hearts of neighborhoods, holding events like ESL/GED classes, family literacy nights and potluck dinners.
-Early education: Duncan stressed the importance of quality programs that go beyond “glorified baby-sitting.” He also said that while access to pre-school programs needs to be increased, more Latino parents need to be convinced to enroll their children in them. “We still see a very low level of participation,” Rico added.
-Tucson Mexican-American Studies program. Many people asked whether the department had taken a stand on the dismantling of the program and the removal of a number of books by Latino authors from teachers’ classrooms. Rico said that the department is looking into allegations of a book ban and other concerns. “The president takes this issue very seriously and the secretary sees education as the civil rights issue of our day,” Rico said. “We’re looking into the issue now. It takes time for the process to go through.”
Other concerns raised by people posing questions included high college costs and debt and plus the need to increase access in Hispanic communities to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
The town hall was moderated by LATISM, a non-profit social media group organized to advance the Latino community.