Hispanics are Idaho’s largest minority group, at 11.9 percent of the population in 2011, and that population is growing fast. From 2000 to 2010, Idaho’s Hispanic population increased by 73 percent, or more than 74,000, Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs Director Margie Gonzalez told JFAC this morning. The growth rate for non-Hispanics in Idaho in the same decade was 17 percent.
In 2010, 45 percent of Idaho’s Hispanics were 19 or younger, compared to 28 percent for non-Hispanics. Among the implications of that: Idaho’s Hispanic student population in its public schools has almost doubled from 2003, when it was 26,966, to 2011-12, when it hit 45,805. “Education ranks high in our priorities,” Gonzales told lawmakers. “Idaho’s Hispanics have lower levels of educational attainment than any other group. This is particularly troubling.” She said, “Experts say the state’s economic health depends on fixing ethnic achievement gaps.”
Gonzalez said the commission is working with the state Department of Education on efforts to reduce that gap and cut dropout rates. Some significant results have been seen: The Hispanic student dropout rate has dropped significantly, from 8.2 percent in 2000-01 and 12.7 percent in 1993-94 to just 1.72 percent in 2009-10. Also, Idaho Hispanic students have made big gains in vocabulary tests, eclipsing gains in other states, and the state is seeing record enrollment of Hispanics in higher education.