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Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden plays singer Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" on a phone before speaking at a Hispanic Heritage Month event on Sept. 15, 2020, at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP/Semansky) Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden plays singer Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" on a phone before speaking at a Hispanic Heritage Month event on Sept. 15, 2020, at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP/Semansky)

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden plays singer Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" on a phone before speaking at a Hispanic Heritage Month event on Sept. 15, 2020, at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP/Semansky)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 23, 2020

Fact-checking Biden’s claim about number of students who speak Spanish

If Your Time is short

  • The American Community Survey showed that nationwide, about 17% of all public school students speak Spanish, according to experts at the Pew Research Center. 

  • Florida state Education Department data shows that about 20% of public school students speak Spanish as their native language.

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned with members of central Florida’s Puerto Rican community following polls showing he is underperforming among Hispanics in the battleground state.

During a Hispanic Heritage event in Kissimmee, where he kicked off his speech with a clip from the song "Despacito" by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi, Biden released his plan for Puerto Rico, including hurricane recovery measures, relief from debt and investments in public schools.

Biden also praised the contributions of Hispanics in America, and cited a statistic about Spanish-speaking children.

"Today, it is no exaggeration to say that the future of the success of this country depends on Hispanics having opportunities and the tools they need to succeed," he said Sept. 15. "I know my team here knows, my new team, that 24 of every 100 kids in school today speak Spanish."

In an interview with Telemundo the same day, he made a similar statement about students, that 24 out of 100 "are Latinos, Spanish speaking."

We’ve heard Biden deliver a version of this statistic since 2019, when he vowed to invest in education, including for Hispanic children. His campaign website said one-quarter of school children are Latino, but on the trail, Biden sometimes says about one-quarter of students are Latino and speak Spanish. Those two statements aren’t the same, because not all Latino children speak Spanish. 

We asked Biden’s campaign to provide evidence for the statistic. We didn’t get a reply by deadline.

RELATED: Trump retweets manipulated video falsely suggesting Biden played ‘F--- Tha Police’ at Florida event

Spanish speakers in K-12 schools

When Biden says about one-quarter of U.S. public school students are Latino, he is on firm ground. But his statement that the same proportion speak Spanish is an exaggeration if he was referring to the U.S.

The 2018 American Community Survey asks if respondents speak a language other than English at home. In the United States, about 17% of all public school students speak Spanish, Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer and expert on immigration at the Pew Research Center told us. 

Pew researchers looked at the same 2018 data for Florida only, and found that about 24% of public school students speak Spanish at home (and most of those students are Hispanic). State Education Department data for the 2019-20 school year showed that about 20% of public school students speak Spanish as their native language. 

Not all young Hispanics speak Spanish. Pew’s 2016 national survey of Latinos found that English use is on the rise among young Hispanic people, but about 6 in 10 say they use Spanish.

RELATED: Republicans and Democrats claim to support Dreamers. So why can’t they pass a law?

Our ruling

Biden said "24 of every 100 kids in school today speaks Spanish." 

Nationwide, according to Pew, the proportion is lower: about 17%.

Other times, Biden uses the 1-in-4 statistic to indicate the number of Latino children, and that statement is correct.

On his specific statement about the number who speak Spanish, we rate this statement Half True.

 

Our Sources

Rev.com, Joe Biden Hispanic Heritage Month Event Speech Transcript, Sept. 15, 2020 

Telemundo, Interview with Joe Biden, Sept. 15, 2020

Biden campaign, Plan for Puerto Rico, September 2020

NowThis, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Joe Biden, and more in conversation, Aug. 18, 2020

National Center for Education Statistics, Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools, May 2020

The Hill, Biden looks to shore up Latino support in Florida, Sept. 15, 2020

Pew Research Center, Key facts about young Latinos, one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations, Sept. 13, 2018

Pew Research Center, 6 facts about English language learners in U.S. public schools, Oct. 25, 2018

Pew Research Center, Who is Hispanic? Sept. 15, 2020

Email interview, Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at Pew Research Center, Sept. 16, 2020

U.S. Department of Education, Statement to PolitiFact, Sept. 17, 2020

Email interview, Cheryl Etters, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, Sept. 16, 2020

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Fact-checking Biden’s claim about number of students who speak Spanish

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