Hispanic Parents Like School Choice Program

Aaron Rodriguez of Franklin is a freelance journalist for El Conquistador and a board member of Hispanics for School Choice. His “The Red Fox” blog is part of Purple Wisconsin. This column originally ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

When state legislators say they oppose expanding the school choice program, they’re sending a message to Hispanic parents that they’re not smart enough to decide which schools are best for their children. Allow me to explain.

Numerous surveys published recently have indicated an overwhelming support for the school choice program among Hispanic voters. According to a 2012 report published by the American Federation for Children – a pro-school choice advocacy group – 91% of Hispanics in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, New Jersey and Nevada support school voucher and scholarship programs. In Texas, a survey published earlier this year by Braun Research showed that 80% of registered Hispanic voters support school choice.

If you’re not a fan of surveys, let’s try some different numbers.

St. Anthony School in Milwaukee is now the largest private school to participate in a school choice program across the country. It wasn’t always this way. From 2002 to 2011, the school’s annual student enrollment ballooned from 400 to 1,700 students. The rate of growth is impressive; but underscoring that growth is the statistic that 99% of St. Anthony’s student body is Latino. St. Anthony’s expansion and demographics corroborate what surveys have been telling us: There is a strong demand for school choice among Hispanics.

The state Legislature should keep two things in mind when considering the expansion of school choice. First, the Hispanic community is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, quickly becoming an important voting bloc in American elections. Second, many of the areas targeted this year in Wisconsin for expanding school choice have growing Hispanic communities. Let’s briefly look at three of the nine areas in Wisconsin targeted for school choice expansion: Green Bay, Kenosha and Beloit.

Green Bay’s Hispanic population density is twice the state average. Hispanic population growth there has doubled the past 10 years and quadrupled in the past 15 years. Kenosha’s Hispanic population is now approaching three times the state average and has grown 79% in the past 10 years. Beloit’s Hispanic population is almost three times the state average and has grown 94% the past 10 years. Opposing the expansion of the school choice program in cities where Hispanics are quickly growing is playing political chicken with an increasingly important voting bloc.

A recent op-ed submitted by a group of public school teachers argued that voucher schools are not accountable to taxpayers and have not increased student achievement beyond public schools. I won’t get into the weeds on some of the particulars, but I will point out something that seems to be ignored by the anti-school choice crowd. A five-year longitudinal study published by Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas showed that students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program were 7% more likely to graduate high school and 4% more likely to enroll in college than their Milwaukee Public Schools peers.

Read the entire column here.