WASHINGTON – Hispanic children are enrolled in Maryland public schools at lower rates than any other ethnic group, according to a comparison of Census and school system data.
The Census Bureau counted 49,281 Hispanic children between the ages of 5 and 17 in Maryland in April 2000, but public school systems around the state reported Hispanic enrollment of just 36,954 as of Sept. 30, 2000, an enrollment rate of 75 percent of those children.
By comparison, 81 percent of the white school-age population was enrolled in public kindergarten through 12th grade, along with 96 percent of black children, 97 percent of Asian children and 91 percent of American Indians.
While not a perfect comparison — the school numbers include pre-kindergarten students for example, while the Census numbers do not include children under age 5 — the numbers worry some advocates.
“(Low enrollment) seems to be setting up a dynamic of a permanent underclass,” said the Rev. Bill Rickle, who heads the Latino Migration and Ministry Consultation at the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in Baltimore.
Officials said relatively low Hispanic enrollment could be attributed to any number of things, from dropout rates to migrancy to large numbers of students enrolled in parochial or private schools. But they could not point to any one factor.
It could be that the Census or the school system miscounted: The Census Bureau lets people report their ethnicity, but schools may have to guess if parents do not report their child’s ethnicity to the school. Or the school-age population of a given county might have changed sharply from April to September, which could explain why some counties reported enrollment of more than 100 percent for some ethnic groups.
“You’re trying to take a snapshot of a moving target,” said James Burd, of the Caroline County Public Schools’ assessment office. “The target’s not always going to cooperate with you.”
Burd noted that his county reported a black enrollment of 1,146 students in 2000, five months after the Census said the county had 1,043 school-age black children — an enrollment rate of 109.9 percent. Burd said he would trust the school system’s count “because we’re actually counting bodies.”
Migrancy and dropout rates were also cited as possible explanations for low Hispanic enrollment. Burd said his records showed as many as 139 Hispanic children attended a Caroline County school at some point during the year, but only 114 were enrolled at the end of the school year.
“If I had to just guess I would say that our Hispanic population has the highest mobility,” Burd said. “The kids tend to move more frequently . . . than the other ethnic groups.
“You could have families moving into our area where some of the children were 16 years old who perhaps have never attended school in their native country and chose simply to move here and not enroll in our schools,” Burd said.
The Rev. Christopher LeBarge of Immaculate Conception Parish in Marydel said that is the case with many young Hispanics, who are “not coming here to go to school. They’re coming here to work.” But he also sees first-generation Hispanics placing a greater emphasis on education for their children.
“As a culture, Hispanics value education, but they have to provide for their families,” he said. “The ones who were born here or are school-age in the primary schools — I don’t think we’re going to see the dropout rate, the pressure for them to go out and get jobs.”
Natali Fani, an advocacy specialist at CASA de Maryland, said dropout rates have a lot to do with immigration status.
“There’s a lot of kids who don’t see the point of moving on and getting a high school degree if afterward they won’t be able to work or go to college, because they lack immigration status,” Fani said.
“We’re talking about kids who have been here since they were 3, 4 years old,” she said. “They consider themselves American, but not being able to move on because they don’t have a Social Security number makes them depressed and drop out of school.”
School officials said dropouts are not the only explanation for lagging Hispanic enrollment: Baltimore City, for example, has a Hispanic dropout rate of 5.4 percent, but only 29.8 percent of Hispanic school-age children there are registered in school.
Some officials suggested that Hispanic enrollment in private and parochial schools, or in home schooling, could account for some of the disparity.
But many were just at a loss to explain the numbers. The Census reported 33 school-age Hispanics in Garrett County in 2000, for example, but the county schools enrolled just six Hispanic students that year.
“It just puzzles me that the Census would have that number,” said Phil Lauver, Garrett County Public Schools supervisor of pupil services.
Burd said there may not be a simple explanation for the varying numbers.
“It’s like trying to reconcile your checkbook,” he said. “Sometimes you can never really get it 100 percent dealing with people. Kids come and go.”
-30- CNS 12-22-04