December 19, 2016

Education is the foundation of our economic future

Investing in students strengthens communities

The Helios Education Foundation works to create educational opportunities for students in Arizona and Florida. Photo by Flickr user Tom Woodward

Helios Education Foundation was formed in 2004 with the sole mission of creating opportunities for every individual in Arizona and Florida to achieve postsecondary education success. We believe that the future economic viability of both states is dependent on our students graduating high school prepared to succeed in college and career, and entering a competitive workforce with the 21st century skills our economy demands.

According to Georgetown University’s report, Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020. Even so, as we look across our K-12 education systems in Arizona and Florida, the academic achievement gaps that exist among our students is cause for alarm.

The Latino population is the fastest-growing population in Arizona and Latino students make up the largest percentage of students in the state’s K-12 public schools, but Latino students lag behind their White peers in academic achievement across the K-12 education system and are underrepresented in postsecondary degree achievement. Only 18 percent of Latino 4th graders are proficient in reading, compared with 44 percent of White children, and only 23 percent of Latino 8th graders are proficient in math, compared to 51 percent of White students.

In Florida, one out of four Floridians identifies as Latino and one out of six identifies as black; however, black and Latino students when compared to their white peers, show significant differences in student academic achievement from the early grade years to and through postsecondary completion. Only 34 percent of Latino 4th graders and 20 percent of Black 4th graders are proficient in reading compared to 49 percent of White children, and only 22 percent of Latino and 11 percent of Black 8th graders are proficient in math, compared to 36 percent of White students.

It’s up to us to lay the groundwork in education today that will lead to a firm economic foothold for our communities and this great nation tomorrow.

These disparities should be unacceptable to all of us and as the drivers of change in our communities, we should all be rallying behind an agreed upon set of goals for our education system that includes equitable school funding and resources, high-quality teachers and the need for a rigorous, high expectations, college-going curriculum across the K-12 continuum that ensures that every student is prepared to succeed beyond high school.

As you look at the education system in your own communities, I encourage you to adopt the four beliefs that have become an integral part of everything we do at Helios: We believe education changes lives and strengthens communities; we believe education is an investment, not an expense; we believe every student, regardless of zip code, deserves a high-quality education; and we believe we will achieve our mission through partnership and collaboration.

We must work collectively to ensure that every student has access to a high-quality education from the early years, through middle and high school and beyond. It’s up to us to lay the groundwork in education today that will lead to a firm economic foothold for our communities and this great nation tomorrow.

For more information about Helios Education Foundation and its work in education in Arizona and Florida, visit their website at

Paul J. Luna

President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation

Paul J. Luna is the president and CEO of the Helios Education Foundation.
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