One In Four 2016 High School Graduates May Be Latino – And Ready To Vote

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
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We need more salsa in our school cafeterias.

In less than six weeks, millions of American youth will graduate high school with high hopes for a bright future, and one out of four may be Hispanic. Many of these graduates will also be of voting age, joining millions of Americans casting ballots for president this November. In just seven years, the Hispanic percentage of public school students will soar to one in three.

The Latino tide is rising. Like us or not, you can’t ignore us. We are not only the largest minority group in the country, we will likely cast the deciding votes for the 2016 Presidential election.

When the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) gathers this weekend in Anaheim, we will actively encourage the members of our 40,000 U.S. churches to vote in this fall’s presidential election. Potential nominees are eager to connect with Hispanic Evangelicals during our annual convention, but the grassroots influence of church-going Latino families is still up for grabs.

A recent internal survey of NHCLC members revealed that Hispanic evangelicals remain undecided. No candidate from either party has a lock on their support, and more than one-third of those polled say there is no one who clearly represents them at this point in the race. They also noted that the candidate’s policies mattered more than rhetoric.

As all politicians — from those running for local positions to the White House — court the vote of Hispanics in our nation, they should pay close attention to the heart of Hispanic voters: their children. No other issue matters matter more than this one.

Hispanic parents rank education as their highest priority, ahead of immigration and second only to the economy, because they still believe in the American dream. Hispanic families value hard work, education and faith – a powerful trifecta that is sure to yield a stronger America. So candidates who say they love Hispanics should reflect that conviction in their words and in their actions.

Latino voters insist that candidates support education equity and high academic standards that honor the image of God in every child. Darkness lurks in neighborhoods where poverty dims parents’ dreams for their children and in schools that lower standards — cheating students of their bright futures. Education equity is a non-negotiable; it is the ultimate light in the darkest places.

The high school dropout rate for Hispanics decreased from 32 percent to 12 percent between 1990 and 2013, and while that is good news, we must demand better of our schools when white students’ drop-out rate is at 5 percent and black students’ rate is 7 percent. Yet Hispanic students are earning college degrees at significantly lower rates than their peers and are more likely to require remedial courses in their first year. Meanwhile, across all ethnic groups, 28 percent to 40 percent of college students require at least one remedial course to get up to speed – courses students and their families must pay for but for which they receive no credit. It is unacceptable that students are graduating from high school without the basic knowledge and skills to get through their first year in college.

Most states are taking steps to remedy the problem. Since 2010, more than 40 states have adopted higher quality academic standards for all students. Students are taught critical thinking; they are taught to reason out difficult problems, both in Language Arts and math classes. Rigorous education standards put students on the path to developing their minds into deep-thinking young men and women who will be successful in all areas of life, from college and career to ministry and service. This is how we should honor the imago dei in every child, regardless of race, income or zip code.

The church community can help improve education outcomes since that’s where so much of Hispanic life is lived. We say to school leaders, “Where you don’t have facilities, use ours. Where you don’t have translators, use ours. Where you don’t have cultural expertise, use ours.” Our children — and some parents new to this country — may struggle to ask for help, but they should not be struggling to find help in our educational system.

Throughout Latin Leader Fest this weekend, we will be focusing our collective light, like a laser, to vanquish the darkness of ignorance, inequality and bondage. And this November, we shall arrive like a tsunami in voting booths across this country, with education on our minds.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference[nhclc.org](NHCLC/CONEL) and the Hispanic Evangelical Association. He is the author of Be Light.