"Many Houstonians continue to believe that, if only Hispanics and African Americans valued education and understood its importance the way Anglos and Asians do, we would have no problem: Everyone would get the education they need to succeed in America," said Stephen Klineberg, author of the survey and founding director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
But the numbers tell the opposite story.
Blacks and Hispanics are more likely, at 68 and 66 percent respectively, than whites, at 55 percent, to affirm the importance of post-secondary education. Hispanic immigrants, at 76 percent, are the most likely to acknowledge the importance of higher education requirements for a decent job in America today.
"If Houston's African-American and Hispanic young people are not getting the education they need to succeed in today's economy, it is demonstrably not because they do not value that education or recognize its importance," Klineberg said. "It is because these two communities are the most likely to be living in areas of concentrated disadvantage, in overcrowded, underfunded inner-city schools, with all the additional debilitating out-of-class barriers that poverty imposes on a young person's ability to succeed in the public schools."
Namely, the decaying neighborhoods, the constant threats of hunger and homelessness, the unmet social, medical and dental needs, and the perpetual disruptions as impoverished families keep looking for cheaper housing, according to the report.
Blessy George has been a teacher in the Houston area for nine years and has only taught at Title I schools, which are schools with high percentages of children from low-income families. In 2011, she had a fourth-grade Latino student who was "one of the brightest students" she's ever had. When speaking about college, George said she offered him encouragement saying, "There's opportunity for everyone."
"He looked at me like I was crazy," George said. "He said he'd have to get a job by the time he's 15 years old to help his mom, who's a single parent. Even at the age of nine, college wasn't even on his mind as a possibility. It's really not an equal opportunity. The smartest kids I've ever worked with — especially African American students — have been robbed. It always comes down to money."
"If the educational divides are not addressed effectively and soon, the stage will be set for an exploding underclass of Houston citizens who will have been systematically cut off from the chance to earn enough money to support a family in today's knowledge-based global economy," Klineberg said.
The annual survey also found a shift in perspective when it came to Houston schools having enough funding. In 2003, 54 percent of respondents said schools had enough money to provide quality education if used wisely. This year, 57 percent of respondents said more money will be needed to provide quality education.
"This change is likely due to many factors, including more transparency around school spending and better insights into the relationship between money and student outcomes," said Jodi Moon, a postdoctoral fellow with the Kinder Institute's Houston Education Research Consortium.
With a 149-0 vote, the Texas House passed a $9-billion school finance reform bill in March, and the Texas Senate also passed a similar version of the legislation. The legislation aims to increase the base funding for each Texas student, increase teacher pay, provide money for full-day pre-K for low-income students, and allow for long-term property tax relief. The House and Senate plans differ in the teacher salary raise amount.