Putting Latinos at the Core of National Education Policy
By Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon, Ed.D., Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer
Whenever I have the opportunity to introduce myself to a new group of individuals, the one thing I want them to remember about me is that education policy is my love language. As Latinos, policy typically happens to us; not with our input, not in consultation with our community, not even with Latinos in mind or in the room. But, policy shapes our everyday realities.
A retrospective of my schooling experience can be overlayed with a host of policies that shaped my educational opportunities and outcomes. From my participation in the Head Start preschool program to the National School Lunch Program that provided free meals during K-12 to the host of programs designed for first-generation college, low-income students like the Pell Grant and the Educational Opportunity (EOP) Program. As a student, I was completely unaware that policy was at the core of my educational trajectory. Today, I understand the power of policy, the need to speak “wonk,” and the urgency to make policy accessible so that Latinos are no longer passive recipients of policies, but rather active contributors and advocates.
That is why I have spent nearly 25 years working to break down barriers, create policies, and drive results for our nation’s Latino students. I’m fully aware that I do this work on the shoulders of Latino leaders who paved the way for me as well as unsung heroes, like my immigrant parents, who deferred their own dreams so I could pursue my dreams of attaining a high quality education. Education policy – after all – when done right and with good intention can transform lives and shape the next generation of Latino leaders.
However, we know that education policy isn’t always created in the best interest of Latino students, or by individuals who truly understand our community. As one of the very few Latinas to be appointed to a state board of education, I witnessed time and time again the assumptions, misconceptions and the complete invisibility of Latino students in the policy-making process.
Often times, Latinos are clustered into categories – as English Learners, as undocumented, as struggling – which limits the solutions that are created to meet their individual needs, understand their intersectional identities, and advance their learning. Or schools wait too long to teach Latino students about their history and contributions to this country that they go through their entire academic career without ever seeing themselves reflected and celebrated in lesson plans, activities, and history books. Or worse, policies and investments shortchange Latino students by not giving them access to the same opportunities that White students are afforded.
I’m excited to join the incredible team at Latinos for Education as the organization’s first Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer to tackle these pressing challenges. In this role, I will help drive the organization’s national policy principles into a Latino education agenda by advancing policies that put Latinos at the core and finally help our students achieve education equity. While there is no silver bullet to creating this type of change, here are some things that I am most excited about:
- Uplifting the Latino voice in all education policy discussions. There are so many great national education organizations pushing for change and equity, and I look forward to collaborating with them to ensure they are not leaving Latinos behind.
- Tapping into the rich ecosystem of Latino-led civil rights organizations and having them join us in our movement for Latino educators, students and families.
- Providing a bridge between what is happening locally with what is happening nationally. Great work is taking place on behalf of Latinos in Houston, Boston, my own home state of California,and so many other places and it’s important that this innovation and progress informs our national policies and advocacy work.
- Helping connect our network of Latino educators and professionals to our national Latino agenda and build a shared vision for the type of transformative change we want to see in our education system so that Latino students stop being an afterthought.
My life has been shaped by a web of educators and those who pursued the promise of education. My mother was a paraprofessional, and I remember watching her lesson plan as a she also raised four children; my siblings are in the field of education from early childhood to community college; and I joined a few of my trailblazing cousins who were the first in our extended family to attend college and achieve the dream our parents came to this country to pursue. I’m most excited about paying it forward to the next generation, so they know they have a group of Latino leaders championing them on, and charting a new course of education policy that honors, validates, and serves them.
Dr. Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon is Latinos for Education’s first ever Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer. Under Dr. Ortiz-Licon’s leadership, Latinos for Education will broaden and deepen its work at the national level to advance policies that create equitable Latino representation within the education sector and teaching profession, improve outcomes for Latino students from birth to college, and ensure the voice of Latino leaders is shaping the national education agenda.