The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 31, 2006

Latino enrollment exploding in rural schools

ST. PETER — Jack Geller worries what the rural Minnesota workforce will be in the future if Latino students continue to fall behind and drop out of schools.

While overall enrollment in K-12 in the state is dropping, the Latino enrollment is exploding, especially in many rural towns where the kids’ parents are drawn for work.

A new study shows those students are starting behind other students and they stay behind — and are more likely to drop out.

“What’s that going to mean in the future,” Geller said. “Are 20 or 25 percent of the workforce in an area going to have unskilled workers? That’s the scary part. If we can’t find a way to help these students achieve greater academic success, the repercussions for the communities will be immense.

Geller is president of the St. Peter-based Center for Rural Policy & Development, which along with the Chicano Latino Affairs Council did a study documenting enrollment trends, academic achievement and student mobility issues among Latino students across Minnesota.

The report, titled Latino Students in our Public Schools: A Closer Look, examines the Latino student population in 35 Minnesota public school districts where Latinos comprise at least 10 percent of the student population.

The study documents the rapid rise in enrollment of Latino students in Minnesota’s public schools, increasing in numbers from 30,605 in the 2001-2002 school year to 42,393 in the 2005-2006 school year, an increase of more than 38 percent during a time period when overall enrollments in Minnesota declined by approximately 3 percent. Consequently, Latino students went from comprising 3.7 percent of all enrolled students in 2001 to 5.3 percent in 2005.

Geller said the study shows Latino students are behind academically when they enter the schools.

“There is an achievement gap that is identified early and it’s persistent and continuing. For whatever reasons, the schools have been unable to close that gap.”

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