Hispanic Kid Count Soars

Emily Berry, Chattanooga Times Free Press, July 26, 2007

Tennessee and Georgia had double-digit percentage increases in their populations of Hispanic children and children of immigrants between 2000 and 2005, according to a report issued today by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“We live in a global society now,” said Pam Brown, Tennessee state director for the Kids Count project.

The report found a 58 percent increase in the population of Hispanic children in Georgia between 2000 and 2005 and a 49 percent increase in Tennessee for the same period.

Ms. Brown said the influx of Hispanic children into schools and the broader community will help non-Hispanic children prepare to work and live around people of all backgrounds.

But educators and health professionals in both states said the influx of Hispanic and immigrant children also has sparked a need for more health and social services for Spanish-speaking children and their parents.

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Ira Mehlman, national media director for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan group advocating for stricter enforcement of illegal immigration laws, said there is a high cost to taxpayers when so many children of immigrants, particularly those who don’t speak English, arrive in a community.

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The Kids Count report ranked both states better than last year in terms of the well-being of all children: Tennessee moved from 46th to 43rd out of 50 states, and Georgia moved from 44th to 41st. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan organization with a mission of assisting and supporting vulnerable children and families.

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“In 1990 they didn’t have a bilingual program, but now it’s almost a must,” he said. “We have to help direct the Hispanic families to the resources that are out there.”

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East Side Elementary School principal Emily Baker remembers when the area’s Hispanic and immigrant populations were far smaller than today. She recalled years when only 10 or 15 children were enrolled in English-as-a-second-language classes. Last year’s ESL population at the school was 256, she said.

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She said most of the non-English-speaking children are Hispanic, but the school also has students from Sudan, Liberia and Somalia.

Ms. Brown said the influx of Hispanics helps children “begin to understand how other cultures work.”

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