Study picks bilingual education, minority business as top issues

To meet the needs of its communities, Houstonians should push for bilingual education and minority-owned businesses, according to a report released Wednesday.

A broad-based study that identifies the city’s most important issues, using survey data from a diverse sampling of the city’s residents, could provide valuable public policy guidance, city and school officials said Wednesday.

Researched by the University of Houston and the Tomas Rivera Center, a nonprofit policy studies institute, the “”Houston Evaluation of Community Priorities” lists education as the city’s most important issue, followed by job development and crime control.

On education, the survey of 1,100 residents showed that a majority of each of four major ethnic groups supports bilingual instruction in the classroom.

The survey found that 73 percent of African-Americans, 68 percent of Anglos, 64.3 percent of Asians and nearly 90 percent of Hispanics agreed that the need for more bilingual teachers and programs is “”extremely” or “”very important. ”
However, wide disparities persist in the ethnic composition of inner-city and suburban school systems. Hispanics make up 50 percent of HISD students, and African-Americans are 36 percent. In 13 of Harris County’s 19 suburban school districts, by contrast, white students comprise 53 percent to 95 percent of total enrollment.

Jaime de la Isla, the HISD’s associate superintendent for community affairs, was one of 600 community leaders who met in discussion groups in developing the two-year study. He said he is providing information from the report to Superintendent Rod Paige and other top school officials.

“”We are beginning an emphasis on dual-language — not only helping Spanish speakers learn English, but for English speakers to learn Spanish, since we are a part of such an urban environment,” de la Isla said.

But beyond academics, schools also need help from parents and the community in dealing with the mire of societal problems that youths now face, he said.

“”Abuse, dysfunctional families, crime and violence on the street are some of the things we are asked to overcome,” de la Isla said.

In the area of economic development, the report reinforces the city’s need to recover from losing more than 660,000 mostly manufacturing jobs from 1980 to 1990, said discussion group member Olga Garza, a vice president of Compass Bank.

Garza said improvements can be made in opportunities for minority-owned businesses. The proportion of minority business contracts with the city has fallen in the past few years, she said, while the proportion awarded to businesses owned by white women has increased.

From 1988 to 1993, Hispanic-owned businesses’ share of the city’s minority contract dollars fell from 49 percent to 29 percent, while the African-American proportion fell from 29 percent to 26 percent.

Lee Elliott Brown, the city’s director of affirmative action and contract compliance, confirmed those figures. She said the city’s program is intended to assist businesses owned by women as well as those owned by minorities.

Nevertheless, Brown said the report could be used in helping her recommend city policy.

“”I believe these kinds of data should absolutely be used in my recommendations to City Council,” Brown said of the report.

Franklin Jones, Texas Southern University provost and political science professor, said the report showed that political participation has increased among all ethnic groups, although empowerment through winning political office has not kept pace.

Nearly half of all Hispanics, about 45 percent surveyed, believe that City Council has responded poorly to their needs. Only 14.7 percent of African-Americans and 5 percent of Anglos had similar attitudes.

Dr. Ricardo Romo, vice provost of the University of Texas at Austin and a principal investigator and organizer of the research and funding, said the report’s findings are available to all public and private decision-makers.

“”We hope they are receptive to the recommendations,” Romo said.



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