While much of the national debate about the Hispanic community is focused on immigration policy, the reality is that education is a huge priority for of our community. According to a poll released in October by the Pew Hispanic Research Center, 83 percent of Latinos said that education was very important to their vote for president, a higher percentage than said the economy.
In selecting Betsy DeVos to be the next secretary of education, President-elect Donald Trump has sent an important signal to Hispanics that he is committed to lifting the prospects of their children. Mrs. DeVos is one of the strongest advocates in the nation for providing low-income Latino families with the same rights to attend better performing schools. Mrs. DeVos correctly believes that every child should have access to great teachers and schools, regardless of their race, ethnicity or zip codes. For the past 28 years, she has been on the front lines fighting for greater opportunities for at-risk children.
In Florida, a state where the majority of students in public schools are either Hispanic or African American, Mrs. DeVos has fought to promote school choice, including a corporate tax credit program that funds scholarships for private schools for children desperately hoping to escape failing public schools. Thanks to the advocacy of Mrs. DeVos and the visionary leadership of Governors Jeb Bush and Rick Scott, Florida is now widely recognized as the national leader in school choice and accountability in public education.
More than 300,000 students in Florida are attending a school of choice, helping to drive some of the most impressive gains in student achievement in the nation and illustrating the strong support choice programs have among the parents who simply want their best for their kids.
According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation's Report card, Florida's fourth grade Latino students are number one in reading among their Hispanic peers in other states; they are also an impressive fourth in math scores.
These impressive gains are felt at every grade level, as the achievement gap between Hispanic and African American students and white children has narrowed dramatically since sweeping school choice reforms in the late 1990s. As a result, Florida's high school graduation rate has increased by more than fifty percent, an amazing achievement driven heavily by the learning gains among Hispanic and African American children.
The impressive rise in student achievement seen in Florida is also happening in Arizona, another state with a high percentage of Hispanic students. Last year, according to the Nation's Report Card, Arizona led the nation in gains in science. Like Florida, Arizona is a state that has put public and private school choice at the center of its K-12 education reforms.
Sadly, the nation's teacher's unions continue to block almost any effort to expand school choice to more Hispanic and African American children. For instance, in New York City and Washington, D.C., there are nearly 50,000 children on waiting lists for charter schools,; the majority of these students come from Latino and African American homes. As secretary of education, Betsy DeVos will fight hard for these families. She believes passionately that injecting more competition into our K-12 education system will force schools and educators to up their game, helping to make all K-12 schools perform better.
Since President-elect Trump announced Mrs. DeVos' nomination, the teacher's unions and education establishment have frantically tried to discredit her achievements and philosophy. The national media should press her detractors to answer a simple question: Why should poor Hispanic and African American parents be deprived the opportunity to send their children to excellent schools?
Betsy DeVos will lead an important national debate on the importance of putting the interests of children ahead of the unions and entrenched special interests that have defended a failed status quo that has relegated at-risk minority children to second-rate status. It's a conversation that is long overdue.
Julio Fuentes is the President and CEO of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.