TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - There's a warning that Arizona is ignoring a big part of its population, and that could have far- reaching consequences for Arizona's economy.
Arizona State University put out the warning about the "Latino Education Gap" more than ten years ago.
ASU researchers say not much has changed since then and Arizona is heading for a crisis if something is not done.
Hispanics are a growing part of the workforce in Arizona.
They say under-served Hispanic-American children are in danger of becoming an under-educated, unskilled workforce.
Researchers say it's not a cultural issue, but an issue of poverty and a lack of spending on education.
Educators, business leaders and others heard about the problem and possible solutions at a forum on the "State of Hispanic Education" in Tucson Thursday.
The Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hosted it.
The numbers show Hispanic-Americans will be the majority of Arizona's future workforce.
The conclusion is that leaving the "Latino Education Gap" wide open puts Arizona's economy at risk.
"What that's creating is a workforce that's coming up which is largely Latino--that's the young workforce coming up-- that is going to be under-skilled, under-educated, and therefore not able to compete for the top jobs which has a ripple effect of Arizona not being able to compete regionally, nationally, internationally," says ASU Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center Director Joseph Garcia.
Garcia says, "We're creating a permanent underclass and it's not serving anyone. And the economic case is that if we don't do anything, looking just at straight-line projections, Arizona's median income actually drops by about $3,000 over the next 15 years, 20 years. And that means there's less spending money, with people buying goods and services. Less money in the economy."
There's agreement in education circles that education is the key.
"For me it's quality early childhood education," says Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone.
He says anyone who says early childhood education doesn't matter is wrong
Pedicone says the research shows preschool and kindergarten are important to a student's success.
He says, in his opinion it starts there and "then it's about getting the resources targeted in the right way, in the right way, the right manner. The methodologies used with students that don't have the experiences that some students have have to be specific. They have to be research-based and they have to be driven by the motive to make sure that achievement occurs."
In some cases it's about money. In others, it's about policy changes.
For instance, it can take several years to turn around a failing school, but Arizona threatens the jobs of educators if they are at failing schools.
"If you're in a failing classroom or a failing school for two years in a row, your certificate is in jeopardy. Your employment is in jeopardy. You'll still have people that will go there because we've got champions, we've got crusaders going into these schools, but they're (Arizona is) discouraging people from doing that. Whether they be teachers or principals, school people are discouraged from doing the work that needs to be done to get at exactly the problem we're talking about," Pedicone says.
"It's going to take years, but we can find the solution to help our students, for our students to be proactive, for our parents to be proactive, politicians to decide to make a commitment to give more funding to education, to recruit teachers and prepare them better," says Pima Community College Senior Assistant to the Provost Dr. Dolores Duran-Cerda.
ASU's Garcia stresses the importance of Arizona students going on to college or learning a skill after high school.
Garcia says Arizona needs a "game changer."
"Every business knows R-O-I, return on investment. We have to have more investment if we're going to do anything. There has to be a statewide, concerted effort to close the gap because it is a statewide crisis. We have to recognize it as a crisis and quit fooling ourselves and somehow think it's going to fix itself.
Arizona is ranked 48th in the United States in spending on education.