Election Lesson: Latinos Have Influence

In this Friday, June 29, 2012 photo, Hector Acuna, a volunteer for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, joins about
In this Friday, June 29, 2012 photo, Hector Acuna, a volunteer for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, joins about a dozen others as they are briefed on how to register new voters prior to canvassing in a heavily Latino neighborhood in Phoenix. Across the country both political parties have been courting the Latino vote, the nation's fastest-growing minority group. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As pundits continue to examine the outcome of various races and ballots cast Nov. 6, one persistent truth cannot be understated or ignored: the power of the Hispanic-American vote is growing, and this voting bloc's priority issues -- including education reform and school choice -- must be addressed by those elected into state and national offices.

A record 23.7 million Latinos were eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election, up by more than 4 million from 2008, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. Latinos comprise a greater share of the nation's eligible voters than they did just a few years ago -- 11 percent this year, up from 9.5 percent in 2008 and 8.2 percent in 2004.

Following this month's election, Latinos will serve in the state legislatures of 36 states across the country, with 70 Latinos serving as State Senators. The Arizona State House of Representatives now has 13 Latinos, up from eight. Latino legislators elected to serve in the California State Assembly now total 19, an increase of four. In Maine, voters elected their first Latino to the state House of Representatives.

Hispanic-Americans two weeks ago voted in record numbers, particularly in key battleground states including Florida, Ohio and Colorado. For example, Florida's presidential outcome was decided by Hispanic-heavy counties of Orlando, Broward, and Miami-Dade.

On behalf of the pre-election poll co-sponsored by HCREO and the American Federation for Children (AFC).

We know that education reform and school choice are top issues for Latinos, second only to jobs and the economy, based on the HCREO/AFC poll released this past summer of voters in five key battleground states including Florida. The poll found that education is a top-tier issue for battleground voters and Latinos -- even more important than immigration, in some cases. The poll found that Latino voters in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and New Jersey are more likely than voters overall to cite improving education and increasing education options as core priorities.

Both presidential candidates stressed on election night that those in office must now work jointly and in a non-partisan way to address the great civil justice issues of our time. These issues include immigration, reducing the gap in quality educational opportunities for minorities, expanding school choice options so that all students regardless of zip code or socioeconomic background have a chance to excel. According to national data from the Pew Hispanic Center, only about 13 percent of Hispanic 25- to 29-year-olds complete at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 39 percent for whites in the same age group and 53 percent for Asians. This gap cannot persist.

Education reform shouldn't be specific to one community -- unfortunately Latinos and other minority communities tend to feel the cuts the worse. In Arizona we are committed to empowering parents to take control of their child's educational future. We believe in educational equality for all -- whatever that method is. In this day and age students must be prepared for the four years beyond high school, they must be equipped to compete in a global economy. Hispanic CREO's mission is to ensure that each child receives this opportunity regardless of race, economics or geography.

HCREO looks forward to working with all elected officials in Washington and other states to level the playing field for Hispanic students and families. A child's academic destiny should not be tied to a parent's income, skin color, or ethnicity. Education reform is key to improving the economy and growing jobs for the future with an educated, skilled workforce.

Until every student is succeeding, we must remain diligent in our work. Our communities and the entire nation will be stronger as a result.

Co-authored with Julio Fuentes

Julio Fuentes is president of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.

Christina M. Martinez is the owner and CEO of Adelante Public Affairs & Communications and is the Arizona state director for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.