I. Overview

The number of Hispanic students in the nation’s public schools nearly doubled from 1990 to 2006, accounting for 60% of the total growth in public school enrollments over that period. There are now approximately 10 million Hispanic students in the nation’s public kindergartens and its elementary and high schools; they make up about one-in-five public school students in the United States. In 1990, just one-in-eight public school students were Hispanic.

Strong growth in Hispanic enrollment is expected to continue for decades, according to a recently released U.S. Census Bureau population projection. The bureau projects that the Hispanic school-age population will increase by 166% by 2050 (to 28 million from 11 million in 2006), while the non-Hispanic school-age population will grow by just 4% (to 45 million from 43 million) over this same period.1 In 2050, there will be more school-age Hispanic children than school-age non-Hispanic white children.

While Hispanics account for 20% of public school students nationally, their share of enrollment is greater in several states. In 2006 Hispanics were about half of all public school students in California, up from 36% in 1990. They were more than 40% of enrollments in three additional states (Arizona, New Mexico and Texas) and between 20% and 40% of all public school students in five states (Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Florida and New York). Overall, Hispanics are the largest minority group in the public schools in 22 states.

Using data from the 2006 American Community Survey (ACS), this report presents information on the demographic characteristics of Hispanic students in public schools. It compares Hispanic public school students with their non-Hispanic counterparts. The large sample sizes available in the ACS also enable detailed comparison of Hispanic students across generational groups.

Highlighted Characteristics of Hispanic Public School Students


  • The vast majority of Hispanic public school students (84%) were born in the United States.
  • More than half (52%) of all Hispanic students are enrolled in public schools in just two states, Texas and California.
  • Although most Hispanic students live in the nine “established”2 Hispanic states, foreign-born Hispanic students are more likely than native-born Hispanic students to live in the “new” and “emerging” Hispanic states.
  • Hispanic kindergartners in public schools are overwhelmingly born in the U.S. (93%), compared with 86% of Hispanic students in grades 1 through 8 and 77% in high school.
  • The majority of Hispanic students are of Mexican origin (69%), followed by Puerto Rican (9%), Dominican (3%), Salvadoran (3%) and Cuban (2%).3
  • Nearly three-in-five Hispanic students (57%) live in households with both of their parents compared with 69% of non-Hispanic white students and 30% of non-Hispanic black students.
  • More than seven-in-ten U.S. born Hispanic students of immigrant parents (71%) live with both parents. Smaller shares of foreign-born students (58%) and U.S.-born students of native parentage (48%) reside with both parents.
  • More than a quarter of Hispanic students (28%) live in poverty, compared with 16% of non-Hispanic students. In comparison, more than a third of non-Hispanic black students (35%) reside in poverty and about one-in-ten (11%) non-Hispanic white students live in a poor household.
  • Foreign-born Hispanic students (35%) are more likely than their native-born counterparts (27%) to live in poverty.
  • A significant minority of Hispanic public school students (34%) have parents who have not completed high school. Fewer than one-in-ten (7%) non-Hispanic students have parents who have not finished high school.

Language Skills

  • Seven-in-ten (70%) Hispanic students speak a language other than English at home.
  • Almost 30% of Hispanic public school students report speaking only English at home, and an additional 52% of Hispanic public school students report speaking English “very well.” The remaining 18% of Hispanic students speak English with difficulty.4
  • Nearly half (44%) of first-generation students speak English with difficulty, compared with 20% of second-generation students and 5% of the third-and-higher generations.5
  • Most Hispanic students (78%) live in households in which at least one household member over the age of 13 speaks only English in the home or speaks English very well.

About this Report

The data contained in this fact sheet are based on Pew Hispanic Center tabulations of the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey. The ACS is the largest household survey in the United States, with a sample of about 3 million addresses, and was designed to provide estimates of the size and characteristics of the resident population.

The specific data sources for this fact sheet are the 1% sample of the 2006 ACS Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) and the 5% sample of the 1990 Census IPUMS provided by the University of Minnesota. For more information about the IPUMS, including variable definition and sampling error, please visit http://usa.ipums.org/usa/design.shtml. To learn more about the sampling strategy and associated error of the 2006 American Community Survey, please refer to http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Downloads/ACS/accuracy2006.pdf.

Numbers presented in the text and figures are rounded to the nearest whole number. When two categories are discussed jointly in the text, the number presented is the summation of the two non-rounded data points. As a result, some of the numbers in the text differ from numbers in figures by one percentage point. Where this occurs, the number cited in the text should be regarded as the most accurate.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably in this report.

This report uses the following definitions of the first, second and third-and-higher generations:

First generation: Born outside the United States, its territories or possessions. Can be naturalized U.S. citizens, legal immigrants or undocumented immigrants. Also referred to as “foreign born” and “immigrants.”

Second generation: Born in the United States with at least one foreign-born parent. U.S. citizens by birth. Included in “native-born” students.

Third-and-higher generations: Born in the United States with both parents also born in the United States. U.S. citizens by birth. Included in “native-born” students.

Unless otherwise stated, the term “student” is used to refer to a student of any age enrolled in a public kindergarten or an elementary school or high school.