OPINION: Closing the Gap
As the father of three children, I know how critical the early years of a child’s life are to their future personal development. Ensuring every child, regardless of learning ability, income level or race, has the knowledge and resources to succeed in school and eventually lead a productive career and satisfying life is essential.
The future success of a nation is dependent upon the educational achievements of its children. Despite Washington’s changing approach to education policy, the United States continually falls behind in the global race for educational excellence. Moreover, our education system has been failing minority students the most, especially when it comes to early childhood and primary education.
Education is not only critical for individual development; it greatly influences the future success of a nation as a whole. Spurred by education, economic growth incites infrastructure upgrades, reduces gender inequality and lowers poverty rates, resulting in improved health, safer streets and stronger communities.
In 2014, there were 55.3 million Latinos in the United States, more than 17 percent of the total U.S. population. Taking into consideration projected population increases, the success of Latino-Americans is paramount to the overall success of the United States.
California’s 21st Congressional District is home to one of the highest Latino populations in the entire nation. As the representative for the district, and a lifelong resident of the Valley, I have gained a unique perspective into the particular issues impacting Latino education.
While there are many obstacles facing our education system as a whole, issues such as poverty and English language proficiency have a particular impact on Latino children. Statistics show children in low-income households miss more days of school than their more affluent peers, largely as a result of increased responsibilities such as needing to work or care for family members. On average, impoverished children have smaller vocabularies, below average reading skills and lower test scores. Economic status also impacts the family dynamic, which is directly correlated to educational success. These families have less time and fewer resources to spend educating their children, who, as a result, are less likely to be academically successful and more likely to exhibit behavioral issues.
The biggest obstacle to educational achievement for Latinos is the English language barrier. More than 20 percent of California public school students are English language learners, with nearly 84 percent of those students speaking Spanish. Furthermore, nearly 60 percent of children who are English language learners are from low-income families; this combination exacerbates the difficulties in obtaining educational success.
As a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, I have worked to increase funding for the Head Start program, which supports state initiatives to build, enhance and expand high-quality preschool programs in low-income and underperforming communities, by over $141 million. Research has proved that early education and preschool improve the likelihood of long-term success. I have also worked with my colleagues to maintain funding for Preschool Development Grants, which assist states in developing preschool programs.
I understand the educational disadvantages many English learners face while in school and have supported maintaining funding for the English Language Acquisition program to help schools properly educate Limited English Proficiency students.
Furthermore, the House and Senate successfully replaced failed polices of No Child Left Behind and enacted the Every Child Achieves Act this Congress. This law updates America’s education policies, provide parents and teachers with more local control and ensures our schools have the resources and funding they need.
The importance of ensuring every child has access to a strong education from Day 1 is recognized not only by those in Washington but by private companies and corporations throughout the United States.
Right in my own congressional district, Grimmway Farms has made it its mission to close the achievement gap in its underserved Valley communities. Located in Arvin, Calif., Grimmway Academy provides children from kindergarten through seventh grade with a quality education, helping to close the achievement gap in the Central Valley’s most rural and impoverished communities.
They are not the only ones giving back.
For years, The Wonderful Co. has spent millions of dollars improving its surrounding communities, investing in education, healthcare, parks and infrastructure. In 2009, the company teamed up with the community of Delano, Calif., to launch The Wonderful College Prep Academy. The school prioritizes programs geared specifically to the local population, including an Ag Prep career pathway as well as English Learner programs.
This corporate sense of responsibility is beyond honorable and will have lasting impacts for thousands of students and the future success of entire communities. Congress, along with educators, parents and private corporations, can close the achievement gap for minority demographics. By expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for Latinos of all ages, we can impact individual lives and restore the United States to its role as a global leader in education.
Valadao has served California’s 21st District since 2013. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee.