White House Says "The Future of this Country is Inextricably Linked to the Future of the Latino Community"

Nearly a quarter of the nation’s kids are Latino, according to census figures released Thursday. Latino kids number just over 17 million, or 23 percent of the 17-and-under U.S. population—a 39 percent increase since 2000.

With birth rates among whites and blacks down, the country’s future is looking increasingly brown. In at least one area—education—that poses a big challenge, given that half of Latino kids don’t graduate high school.

“At same time as we are the fastest growing, we have to be honest—we have the lowest education attainment levels of any group in the country,”says Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

That must change for the good of Latinos and the nation, he says. “The future of this country is inextricably linked to the future of the Latino community,” he says. “The census figures just cement what the President has been saying, that we can’t win the future without out-educating and out-innovating the rest of the world, and that we can’t do that without Latino kids taking part.”

That is especially important at a time when Latinos and their kids are spreading across the country beyond traditionally Latino-heavy cities like Los Angeles and becoming a bigger presence in school districts, well, everywhere: In Kansas City, where Sepulveda recently talked to education officials and Latino parents, Latino kids make up 40 percent of the student body. “It’s no longer just places like Los Angeles where, we’re in the Midwest, in the heartland,” Sepulveda says.

The census figures proved that it’s time for not only Latinos to help our kids do better, but for those outside the Latino community to pay attention, says Sepulveda, who in the past two years has traveled to Latino communities across the country listening to concerns and trying to forge solutions. “I think now people will say ‘wow’ and put more focus and emphasis on this. I think we have to be optimistic. It’s a big challenge, but it’s in the country’s interest."

WATCH: President Obama will be doing a Town Hall meeting on Univision, which will air at 7 p.m. on Monday.