Washington Roughly one-fourth of the nation’s kindergartners are Hispanic, evidence of an accelerating trend that now will see minority children become the majority by 2023.
Census data released Thursday also shows that Hispanics make up about one-fifth of all K-12 students. Hispanics’ growth and changes in the youth population are certain to influence political debate, from jobs and immigration to the No Child Left Behind education, for years.
The ethnic shifts in school enrollment are most evident in the West. States such as Arizona, California and Nevada are seeing an influx of Hispanics due to immigration and higher birth rates.
Minority students in that region exceed non-Hispanic whites at the pre-college grade levels, with about 37 percent of the students Hispanic. Hispanics make up 54 percent of the students in New Mexico, 47 percent in California, 44 percent in Texas and 40 percent in Arizona.
In 2007, more than 40 percent of all students in K-12 were minorities — Hispanics, blacks, Asian-Americans and others. That’s double the percentage of three decades ago.
In colleges, Hispanics made up 12 percent of full-time undergraduate and graduate students, 2 percent more than in 2006. Still, that is short of Hispanics’ 15 percent representation in the total U.S. population.
“The future of our education system depends on how we can advance Hispanics through the ranks,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “In many cases it’s going to be a challenge because they are the children of immigrants, and their English is not as strong. Many have parents without a high school or college education.”
Minorities are projected to become the majority of the overall U.S. population by 2042. For minority kids, that shift is seen coming in 2023, seven years earlier than the previous estimate, from 2004. The accelerated timetable is due to immigration among Hispanics and Asians, and declining birth rates among non-Hispanic whites.
Hispanics account for more than 23 percent of kindergartners in private and public schools, according to 2007 data. That is more than triple Hispanics’ percentage in the 1970s, the height of white baby boom enrollment in elementary and high school.
More Hispanic kindergartners in 2007 were U.S.-born than foreign-born, assuring them of citizenship that will make them eligible to vote by 2020.
Richard Fry, a senior researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center, said Hispanic growth cannot be ignored in policy debates for too long. While in recent elections Hispanics have only cast 6 percent of the total ballots, “Latinos’ electoral power and participation levels clearly are going to grow,” he said.
Other findings from the data:
• About 58 percent of non-Hispanic whites were enrolled in grades K-12, compared with their 66 percent in the total U.S. population. After Hispanics, blacks were the second largest minority group (15 percent), followed by Asians (4 percent).
• Fifty-three percent of Hispanic 4-year-olds were enrolled in nursery school, compared with 43 percent in 1997 and 21 percent in 1987.
The census data was based on the Current Population Survey. Data on U.S. regions and states came from the 2007 American Community Survey, the government’s annual survey of about 3 million households.