Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Critical Choices in Post-Recession California: Investing in the Educational and Career Success of Immigrant Youth

As California recovers from a severe budget crisis that hit immigrant students particularly hard, policymakers and education leaders face critical choices with respect to financing, implementation of new academic standards and future directions for the state’s high school, post-secondary and adult education systems. These decisions hold significant implications for the education success and future workforce skills of California’s large and growing population of immigrant and Latino youth, the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy concludes in a new report.

Home to one-quarter of the nation’s immigrants and more than one-third of U.S. students who are English language learners (ELLs), California’s success in integrating immigrants and the children of immigrants into post-secondary education and the workforce is critical not just for the state’s competitiveness but that of the nation as well. More than half of California youth ages 16 to 26 are immigrants or the children of immigrants — compared to one-quarter nationwide — and the state accounts for nearly 30 percent of unauthorized immigrant youth eligible for relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, if they meet educational and other criteria. “Coming out of a historic recession, California’s education systems are at a watershed, with enormous changes underway affecting funding, governance, standards and accountability at all levels,” said report co-author Sarah Hooker, an MPI policy analyst. “The state’s responses to the recession undercut its performance in educating immigrant youth; whether this record improves will remain in doubt unless the needs of these youth are made a more central focus of reform and accountability efforts.”

The report, Critical Choices in Post-Recession California: Investing in the Educational and Career Success of Immigrant Youth, traces the deep budget cuts that resulted in the loss of 32,000 teachers in the K-12 system, a decline in community college enrollment of nearly 500,000 students and a collapse in funding for adult basic education (as much as 60 percent of state funding for adult ed was redirected to other purposes in 2011-12). The cuts, some of which the state has begun to reverse, came against the backdrop of major existing education challenges:

California ranks 46th nationally in the share of its young adult population with a high school diploma or equivalent;

its student-to-guidance counselor ratio is second-highest in the nation; and

per-student spending on K-12 education has been below the national average for 25 years.

The state, home to the largest number of legal and unauthorized immigrants nationally, is also a top destination for refugees and unaccompanied child migrants, two populations that pose additional challenges for educators. The study, which provides a cross-system analysis of the educational experiences of California’s first- and second-generation youth, includes a significant focus on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Oakland, Anaheim, Fullerton and Sanger, where MPI researchers interviewed 125 school district and college administrators and faculty, as well as organizations that serve immigrants. Drawing on analysis of U.S. Census and state education data, the report — the third of a multi-state series — documents the patterns of low educational attainment among students from immigrant families, identifies barriers to their progress, examines innovative education programs supporting immigrant youth and offers policy recommendations to improve outcomes. 


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