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Duncan, Weingarten Urge Greater Investment in Latino Education

WASHINGTON - Outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is advocating for greater investments in the education of Latino students from the nation's preschool classrooms to its college campuses.

Speaking at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's annual policy conference on Wednesday, Duncan urged attendees to "fight to give kids a chance in life."

Outlining his desire to get more 3-to-5-year-olds in quality prekindergarten programs and to boost college graduation rates for Latinos, Duncan said, "We have to find ways to get better faster."

Duncan appeared at the conference as the Obama administration marks the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Part of the initiative is to increase the number of Hispanic students who earn degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields, known as STEM.

Duncan will step down in December after seven years at the helm of the Education Department. During his tenure, he has persistently advocated for an increased focus on early-childhood education. My colleague Christina Samuels outlines Duncan's work on early learning in this blog post.

Duncan also has pressed to expand financial aid to reach more low-income college students. On Wednesday, he told the crowd that "it makes no sense" to deny undocumented immigrant students access to higher education.

Duncan's call-to-action followed a brief speech by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who discussed the union's efforts to improve the education of 5 million-plus English-language learners, including contributions to the Department of Education's recently released ELL Toolkit.

Without calling out candidates by name, Weingarten chided the field of Republican presidential hopefuls who she said are deploying anti-immigrant sentiment in the lead-up to the GOP primary.

"We will fight shoulder to shoulder with you to stop the hate," Weingarten said, telling the crowd that the nation's schools should be "safe havens" for immigrant students.

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