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Opening Luncheon: Leading in Education

The opening luncheon addressed the state of the U.S. educational system today. In his address, U.S.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called education the civil rights issue of our generation. While the challenges are real and urgent, he said he was absolutely optimistic about the future of education in our nation. "We have a president who is passionate about education," he said, "and we also have more resources than we've ever had before-$100 billion in new money for education."

He acknowledged that while money alone is not enough, it doesn't hurt to have $100 billion to address the critical issues and ensure our nation retains its status as a leading technological innovator and economic powerhouse in the world.

Among the challenges, the U.S. high school dropout rate currently stands at about 30 percent, and we are now lagging behind other nations in college graduation rates. About 2,000 of our high schools are producing 50 percent of the dropouts, with about 75 percent of these coming from Latino and black communities. Duncan called for the United States to raise the bar and increase its educational standards rather than allowing states to dummy them down. He said that we have to focus on the talent of great principals and teachers to make a difference. "We have to challenge ourselves to do better, and we must move with urgency," he said.

He said that $70 billion is earmarked for K-12 education. He also noted the need for Department of Education programs to support parents and help them get involved in their children's education, and turn our schools community centers that provide GED, ESL, and family literacy nights. "When families learn together, great things happen," he said.

"We used to lead the world in college graduation rates," he said.  However, our college graduation rates have flat lined. Other nations now pass us-including South Korea and China. "College has to be a dream for all our students." He also cited tuition tax credits, increased Pell Grants, and income-based repayment plans for public service as three approaches that can help give more students access to college. Additionally, he said that financial aid forms need to be simplified to remove barriers.

"As early as the 1830's Horace Mann, the father of American education, call education the great equalizer," said Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15). He called education "the ladder of opportunity for Latinos."

CHCI Chair Nydia Velázquez echoed those thoughts. "Investment in human capital is the key to keeping this country competitive," she said. "Hispanic families know the value of education and the important doors it opens." She noted that CHCI is offering three intern sessions next year and launched CareerLider one year early to help qualified Latinos find outstanding internships and career positions.