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NEA VP: face of America changing but education remains key to opportunity

WASHINGTON - September 14, 2009 -

In a speech today at a gathering of influential Hispanic political, community and political leaders, NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen pointed out that Hispanics are changing the composition of cities and states from coast-to-coast and influencing all aspects of American life but that education still remains the key to opportunity.

“The face of America is changing,” Eskelsen told the audience of Hispanic leaders. “But one thing will not change. It hasn’t changed for over 200 years. Public education will continue to be the key—la llave a la puerta de la oportunidad. Everything hinges on public education because NEA’s mission is to take all children, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, income, language, skills or ability or disability; we take all children and give them the keys to the doors they might want to open.”

Eskelsen is one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the United States and one of its most influential Hispanic educators. She delivered the opening luncheon address at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Conference, an annual event that brings together leaders to address issues affecting the Hispanic community.

In her speech, Eskelsen also recognized the critical role the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration are playing in helping to transform public education, with the largest investment of federal funds in the history of education.  She noted, “We are lucky to have an administration that puts children first because this country cannot afford to leave any more students behind—not one.”

Recounting her experience, Eskelsen said, “My mother used to tell me to stop whining about homework.  She said every class I took was a key to put in my pocket. She’d say learn the time tables—that’s a key. She said: Memorize the Preamble to the Constitution. That’s a key. Put it in your pocket. You never know when that key might open a door for you. You should have as many keys in your pocket as you can hold.”

Hispanics have become the largest minority group in the U.S., and that growth is reflected in America’s public schools. Fifty million students attend public schools. About 20 percent of public school students—10 million children—are Hispanics. Moreover, according to the U.S. Census, one out of every four kindergarten students in the U.S. today is Latino. That means in 12 years (16, counting college), 25 percent of the national workforce will be Latino. These students will grow up to pay taxes, raise families, vote, run for office and run businesses.

“The success or failure of 25 percent of America cannot be ignored,” said Eskelsen. “No country can withstand that rate of failure. If America marginalizes our Latino community, we do so at the entire country’s peril. The rest of the country cannot advance economically, politically, or globally if we leave 25 percent of us underemployed and undereducated.”

Keenly aware of the role great teachers and great schools play in preparing students, NEA is committing $6 million over the next six years to support quality teaching in high-needs schools.  The commitment is part of an initiative, launched in partnership with the Center for Teaching Quality, to break ground for new teaching policies and strategic partnerships. The centerpiece of the initiative is a report titled, “Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teachers: One Union’s Commitment to Changing the Status Quo.” The report is a compilation of conversations with more than 2,000 of the nation’s best teachers who shared what will attract and keep the most effective teachers in the nation’s most challenging schools.

Eskelsen’s remarks also kicked off Hispanic Awareness Month. To mark the month-long celebration and to help educators learn more about Hispanic history, culture and education, NEA has put together the following resources:

• Lesson plans to help celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
• A list of resources for learning more about Hispanic history, culture, and education
• Hispanic education issues, scholarships, and other online resources
• Learn how NEA’s Minority Community Outreach project is working with the Hispanic community

For additional information, please visit

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.


CONTACT: Miguel A. Gonzalez
(202) 822-7823,