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Study shows broad support for mandatory Spanish classes in public schools

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According to the most recent survey, there is enough public support for mandating Spanish as a core curriculum in public schools to be approved as a constitutional amendment. A new University of Florida survey showed that two-thirds of those polled agree Spanish should be a required subject for students.

“Overall reactions to the notion that Spanish should be a required subject in public schools was far less polarized and more popular than we imagined,” said Chris McCarty, director of the University of Florida Survey Research Center at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, which conducted the survey. “As immigration and the Hispanic vote will be front and center in the 2016 presidential election and Florida a swing state, we can expect this to be a topic of discussion.”

In all, 39 percent of respondents indicated they agreed Spanish should be a required class while just under 28 percent said they strongly agreed. Professional telephone interviewers asked the question as one of five topics.

“The next questions are about required classes in Florida public schools. For each class, please tell me if you think it should be required,” the interviewers began.

Out of the five subjects presented, Spanish was actually the least likely to be supported as a mandatory course.

Should voters ever be presented with a ballot question asking whether to mandate Spanish in public schools, a 60 percent majority vote would be required to adopt a constitutional amendment. The data from this survey suggests that super-majority may be present.

However, the survey did not address a likely detractor with an amendment campaign – funding. There are also potential problems when breaking down the demographics of those polled. For example, Democrats were more likely to support Spanish as mandatory curriculum than Republicans, with 76 percent of registered Democrats supporting it and only 65 percent of Republicans in favor.

Regardless, even Republican responses exceeded the 60 percent threshold.

“We expected support for requiring Spanish to vary considerably by characteristics of the respondent, but this was not the case,” McCarty said.

Responses to whether Spanish should be required did not significantly vary between age groups. There were some fluctuations in other demographics. Survey respondents in Southeast Florida were more likely to support a Spanish curriculum and those who identify as Hispanic or Latino were also more likely to agree with mandating the curriculum.

But in every demographic, support exceeded the 60 percent threshold for constitutional amendments.

“These are encouraging data that show Floridians are understanding that technology and the ability to communicate with and work with others from diverse backgrounds needs to be a priority to prepare our K-12 students for the 21st-century world,” said Ester de Jong, a professor at UF’s School of Teaching and Learning.

The Pew Research Center estimated in 2013 that nearly 12 percent of the country, 37 million people, speak Spanish. That number is expected to grow over the next 20 years.

There was an unsuccessful push in 2005 to make Spanish mandatory. Then Attorney General Charlie Crist said during that effort Spanish should be offered, but not mandatory.

The other academic areas in the survey included Florida history, basic computer skills, a second language of the student’s choice and geometry. Basic computer skills scored the highest with 95 percent saying either “agree” or “strongly agree” that the subject should be required.

A chosen second language was the second most popular with 81 percent supporting that as a requirement. Florida history was third and geometry fourth.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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