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Bush Orders Advisory Panel on Hispanic Education

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Washington--Warning that "we can't afford to waste a whole generation" of Hispanic Americans, President Bush last week signed an executive order that creates an advisory panel on their education and directs federal agencies to help advance their educational opportunities.

In announcing his action, Mr. Bush noted that Hispanics are the nation's fastest-growing ethnic minority and said he hoped the creation of an Advisory Commission on Education Excellence for Hispanic Americans would ensure that their education is a national "priority."

"We must help education to help our Hispanic children be prepared to take their rightful place at the American table of opportunity," Mr. Bush said at a White House ceremony marking Hispanic Heritage Month.

The National Council of La Raza, an umbrella organization of 123 Hispanic community groups, and other organizations had heavily lobbied the President to issue an executive order on Hispanic education, and were disappointed that Mr. Bush did not do so last September, when he launched his initiative on the subject. (See Education Week, Dec. 13, 1989.)

The heart of that initiative was a Task Force on Hispanic Education, chaired by Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, which was formed to assess the participation of Hispanics in federal education programs. The task force held regional hearings on a broad range of issues in Hispanic education and recommended the executive order.

In an interview last week, Secretary Cavazos said the task force's work convinced him an order was necessary. He said he did not know why the Administration had refused to issue one last year, because he "was not involved in that discussion at that time."

He acknowledged, however, that he and the task force had to overcome objections from some Administration officials.

"I must say we had some very good discussions about it. I'll put it that way," Mr. Cavazos said. "I've got to admit we had to very clearly state our rationale."

The advisory commission, which will consist of education, business, and civic leaders appointed by the President, will advise Mr.Cavazos on improving the federal role in fostering the education of Hispanics. It will look in particular at ways to boost parental involvement, improve early-childhood education, and break down barriers to education and employment.

A White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, housed in the Education Department, will support the advisory commission.

Mr. Cavazos vowed to "build on" the President's order by examining what the department can do through its existing programs. In addition, aides to the Secretary said an effort was under way to recruit more Hispanic employees, who they claimed were already more numerous than they had ever been at the agency.

Among other provisions, Mr. Bush's directive requires the Secretary to report periodically on Hispanic students' progress toward meeting national education goals and instructs federal departments to collect data on Hispanic participation in federal education programs.

Praise From La Raza

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, lauded Mr. Bush for his action.

"An executive order has great symbolic significance in both its immediate and long-term impact," Mr. Yzaguirre said in a statement.

"At a time when the school-reform movement is effecting great change in education policy across the country," he said, "this directive will serve as a much-needed reminder to school-board members, administrators, and teachers that the education needs of the fastest-growing student population can no longer be ignored."

"Perhaps more important," he added, "it sets a precedent for future presidents and administrations to follow."

Diploma Sought for Migrants

In addition to the provisions in the executive order, Mr. Bush last week expressed backing for several other federal efforts related to Hispanic education. Among them:

  • Mr. Cavazos will work with states with large Hispanic populations to develop a high-school-diploma program for migrant workers.
  • Federal education programs, including Head Start, will emphasize the teaching of language skills at young ages.
  • The Education Department will seek to strengthen bilingual-education programs for preschoolers.
  • The department will promote alternative-certification demonstration programs for bilingual teachers.
  • Federal departments serving low-income populations will help families plan for higher education.
  • Federal education programs will emphasize the role of families and communities in education.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week held its first Hispanic Education Forum. The forum explored ways that businesses and Hispanic education organizations have successfully confronted the challenges of education for Hispanics.

Washington Editor Julie A. Miller contributed to this report.

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