Adding Spanish-language instruction in the Hillsborough public schools would do more than complement Tampa’s rich Latin heritage. It would better prepare the adults of tomorrow for the global economy, make Tampa more competitive as a corporate home and help diversify the work force of the school district, Hillsborough’s largest employer.

School Board member Joe Newsome has pushed the idea for years. With enrollment growth for Hispanics outpacing all other racial groups, the time has come for approval.

Hillsborough already offers Spanish courses for middle and high school students, like most other school districts in the country. Such a limited exposure so late in the public schools’ curriculum, however, fails to reflect the cultural history of Florida or capitalize on the opportunities for trade made possible by Florida’s proximity to Latin America.

Newsome’s proposal would not by itself make schoolchildren bilingual. School staff are only considering whether “conversational Spanish” should be added as a component of existing K-12 education.

But even a taste of Spanish would enrich campus life and broaden a child’s educational experience. Adding Spanish also may make the school district more representative of the county it serves. Hispanics account for 20 percent of all Hillsborough students, but only 8 percent of the classroom teachers.

With so much potential for good, the only question about Newsome’s plan is why the board waited so long to act.

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