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Latino teacher, students likely to be major victims of impeding layoffs

Hispanic teachers and students are more likely to feel the sting than others as a nationwide wave of layoffs in public schools is expected in coming weeks…

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Hispanic teachers and students are more likely to feel the sting than others as a nationwide wave of layoffs in public schools is expected in coming weeks. Between 150,000 to 300,000 public education jobs are in jeopardy. 

   With midterm elections threatening Democratic congressional control and both parties posturing as the fall midterm elections draw closer, a bailout bill to aid school districts that are most affected stalled May 27.  

   Sponsored by long-time public education advocate Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), it would extend support for school personnel whose salaries were subsidized by federal stimulus funding passed Feb. 13, 2009 which expires early this fall. So far it has received only mild support from the White House. 

   Federal money accounts for 10.5 percent of the 1.1 trillion dollars spent on elementary and secondary education this year. U.S. Department of Education spokesperson Sandra Abrevaya says that while no formal deadline has been set for an additional stimulus package, she expects one to pass this month.

   “We need to act with a real sense of urgency,” she told Hispanic Link News Service, adding that if schools don’t find ways to keep teachers in the classroom, the results can be devastating.

    Arts, afterschool care, physical education, and summer school activities, which are considered beneficial to Hispanics, are included among programs likely to be cut from underfunded schools.

    Hispanic activists cite Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest district whose enrollment of 617,000 is 75 percent Hispanic, as an example of what can happen to a school system in crisis.

    Over the last few years, massive LAUSD budget cuts have caused a sharp increase in pink slips. Latino education advocates maintain that the layoffs are not adequately balanced between district schools in the richer and poorer communities.

    LAUSD spokeswoman Lydia Ramos explains that inner-city schools, with greater percentages of Hispanics and blacks in their administrative and classroom ranks and a higher concentration of young teachers experience higher personnel turnover rates.

    California law states that all personnel layoffs must be based on seniority.  Long-standing “last hired, first fired” contract provisions protect veteran teachers from dismissal. This creates a buffer from layoffs for schools in suburban neighborhoods with lower turnover while leaving inner-city schools, predominantly attended by Hispanic and African-American students, targeted.

    In more affluent West Los Angeles, most schools have lost 10 percent or fewer of their credentialed teachers. Meanwhile, half of the credentialed teachers at urban Markham Middle School, which is 71 percent Hispanic, have been laid off. Only 64 percent of Markham’s remaining teachers are fully credentialed, a figure 31 percent lower than the state average.

   “It’s unfortunate what’s happening to these schools, but until the law is changed, this is how it has to be done,” Ramos says.

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    If the projected 26,000 California teachers are laid off, the Hispanic teacher will become an increasingly rare individual.

    “The ‘last hired, first fired’ category is where we see the bulk of people of color,” says David Hernández, a community outreach specialist with the California Teachers’ Association, adding that the lack of Hispanic role models in teaching positions is harmful for the development of Hispanic youths. One education official characterized the situation as “grim and getting grimmer.”

   SB 995, a bill to allow schools to retain non-veteran teachers based on performance, has been proposed in the California Senate. It is supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

   (Alex Galbraith is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. Email: [email protected])

©2010

 

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