Republican and Latinos agree on education reforms

May 6, 2013

By Katy Grimes

Politics makes strange bedfellows. This we know to be true, but Latinos and Republicans should not be.

Many demographers predict Republicans will steadily pick up Latino voters as Latino assimilation increases, and Latinos succeed economically.

But one area is a natural for Republicans — education. Many Latino voters say education is a leading issue for them, even more than immigration. While Republicans usually vote correctly on school reform bills, thus far, they have not impressed Latinos in this area. But there is an easy fix.

“What Republicans need is an issue on which Democrats cannot outflank them and that will appeal to ordinary voters in populous Democratic strongholds,” said Lance Izumi, Director of Education for the Pacific Research Institute, CalWatchdog’s parent organization. “Parental choice in education fits that bill.”

“Democrats cannot outbid Republicans on parental choice because their paymasters, the teachers’ unions, won’t allow them,” Izumi said. “President Obama claims to support education reform but opposes full-blown choice options such as voucher programs. His reasons, such as believing that money is better spent on increasing public-school funding and that voucher-scholarship programs don’t improve student achievement, are easily rebutted, as the empirical evidence shows otherwise. More important, the groups that Republicans are trying to win over support wider parental-choice options.”

Latinos are increasingly worried and very upset about how their kids are treated in the state’s public schools. At a hearing Wednesday about a bill to increase the frequency of teacher evaluations, hundreds of parents showed up to impress upon the Senate Education Committee just how important and serious the problem is. And these parents were from all walks of life, all ethnicities, all socio-economic classes. Many of these parents had driven to Sacramento from Los Angeles just for the hearing.

Unfortunately, they left the hearing more angry.

Teacher evaluations and other education reforms

SB 441 by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, would have required school districts to regularly evaluate the performance of teachers and school principals.

School districts are currently required only to evaluate teachers as “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” And these performance evaluations are not exactly pop quizzes; they are scheduled in advance so teachers will not be caught off guard.

Calderon’s bill would create four different evaluation grades, and would increase the frequency of evaluations for veteran teachers from every five years to every three years.

Izumi said many Latino families come from low-income areas where school choice is the only way that they are going to be able to achieve that American dream of graduating high school and going on to college. While the Democrat-sponsored DREAM Act focuses on the illegal-immigrant slice of the Latino population, choice options such as vouchers to attend private schools are accessible to all segments of the Latino community. In other words, Izumi said parental choice is the true dream act for all.

Outflanked, but not irrelevant

California Republicans may be outflanked by a Democratic supermajority, but they can be loud and actively supportive of school choice, as well as other education reforms, such as Calderon’s bill requiring more frequent teacher evaluations.

Unfortunately, Calderon’s bill was killed by teachers union and Senate Democrats. But there will be other opportunities as California schools continue to fail so miserably. Republicans should align themselves more closely with education reform issues, and in doing so, will be speaking the same language as all parents.

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