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Bush Creates Task Force On Hispanics' Education

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Washington--President Bush last week announced the formation of a high-level task force that will suggest goals and strategies for improving the educational attainment of Hispanics.

"Nothing less than a national effort will suffice," Mr. Bush told an audience of business and Hispanic leaders at the White House, lamenting how "Hispanic traditions" such as "family support and the encouragement of learning" have been "eroded by the tempo of modern life."

The President's initiative, however, is much narrower in scope than the executive order that had been sought by the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic lobbying group.

"It's a half-full glass," said the council's president, Raul Yzaguirre. "We're very gratified that the President acted; we've been working on this initiative for well over a year. But we're disappointed."

The Task Force on Hispanic Education will be a unit within the President's Working Group on Education. That panel, in turn, is a subset of the Domestic Policy Council, which consists of Cabinet officers and other high-ranking Administration officials.

A memorandum from Mr. Bush to Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, who chairs the education working group, charges the task force with assessing the participation of Hispanics in federal education programs and identifying barriers that may limit participation. It also asks the panel to suggest goals that "should be considered in conjunction with the process of setting national education goals as called for at" the President education summit with governors this fall.

The memo also said Mr. Cavazos plans to appoint a new special adviser on dropouts, who will be directed "to work closely with representatives of the Hispanic community."

No 'Teeth'

The National Council of La Raza has campaigned for an executive order that would be binding on federal agencies. Mr. Yzaguirre said he was told the Administration plans to use such orders "only in rare, special cases" because they can inappropriately "interfere with the power of Congress."

He said the most disappointing aspect of Mr. Bush's initiative is its lack of "teeth."

"It did not include any accountability for the goals and didn't say there has to be a plan and a follow-up," Mr. Yzaguirre said.

The council's draft executive or8der would have required the development of "measurable objectives and goals" that all agencies would have to "consider in developing their agency plans."

Those objectives would have included dropout-prevention strategies, promoting higher education for Hispanics, and recruiting Hispanic educators, as well as efforts to increase the number of Hispanics chosen as "field readers" for "all federal education related proposals" and for seats on education-advisory boards.

Finally, the draft would have required each participating agency to draft a plan for increasing Hispanic participation in education programs and submit annual performance reports. The plans would have been overseen by a "federal interagency committee on education" supervised by the Secretary of Education.

Mr. Yzaguirre said he was also disappointed the White House did not publicize the initiative more extensively and did not give his group advance warning to permit it to publicize the announcement.

"But we're going to make it work, try to be supportive," he said, predicting that the initiative will not prove to be an empty gesture.

"It took more prodding than it should have, but I think it's sincere," he said.

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