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NEA Vice President Eskelsen: education remains the key to opportunity

Partnerships critical to strengthening public education

WASHINGTON - April 30, 2009 -

National Education Association Vice President Lily Eskelsen, one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country and one of its most influential Hispanic educators, today joined policymakers and Latino leaders at a forum hosted by the National Latino Children’s Institute to identify challenges and opportunities to address the needs of Latinos and their children.  NEA is partnering with the National Latino Children’s Institute to raise awareness and create opportunities for Latino children in America.

Hispanics are changing the composition of cities and states from coast to coast and influencing all segments of American life. Nowhere is that more visible than in America's public schools. There are 50 million students in the nation's public schools. One out of every five students—about 10 million—are children of Hispanic descent. About half of these children, approximately 5 million, are learning to speak English.

“The face of America is changing, but one thing will remain constant,” said Lily Eskelsen, NEA vice president. “Public education has always been the key to opportunity in this country—and that will continue to be the case.”

NEA is tenaciously advocating on behalf of all children to deliver on the fundamental belief that every student—regardless of their readiness or background—has the basic right to attend and succeed in a great public school.

“We are fighting for every child on many fronts,” said Eskelsen, “from urging the Obama administration to make education a national priority, to ensuring language is not a barrier to success to almost five million English Language Learners, and creating community schools.” 

NEA urged the Obama administration and Congress to make the largest investment of federal funds in public education in history, with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to prevent teacher layoffs, make key education improvements and investments to close the achievement gaps, and ensure high-quality teachers in the classroom, especially in low-income and minority communities.

“Those funds will help school districts avoid deep program cuts and layoffs that would have a disastrous effect on students,” said Eskelsen. “Just think about what happens to a student when their teacher is laid off, or when a tutoring program is cut.”

Through its English Language Learner Project, NEA is promoting teaching and learning conditions that close the achievement gaps and increase graduation rates in 11 states. The project is helping districts recruit and retain teachers that have the cultural competencies and sensitivities necessary to work with ELL students and communities.

NEA is a charter member of a group called the Coalition for Community Schools, which works to create schools that offer expanded services, including health care, after school enrichment programs, music lessons, and sports. Community schools have proven effective when it comes to academic achievement and closing the achievement gap. Community schools are a concept fully embraced by U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

NEA also established a Minority Community Outreach office to work with elected officials, business leaders, community activists, parents and anyone who has an interest in closing the gaps in student achievement and improving public education, including the National Latino Children’s Institute and other cosponsors of today’s forum.

“These are just a few examples of the incredible work our 3.2 million members do each day on behalf of children,” said Eskelsen. “I’m proud of their work and of the partnerships forged to strengthen public education and advance the cause of great public schools for every student.”

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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,