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Bush Offers Personal Pledge of Support To Hispanic Education Commission

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By Julie A. Miller

WASHINGTON--The President's Advisory Commission on Hispanic Education held its first meeting last week and received a personal pledge of support from President Bush in a session at the White House.

But a key commission member still has doubts about the Administration's commitment, and commissioners failed to come to an immediate consensus on what the panel's priorities should be.

Raul Yzaguirre, the president of the National Council of La Rfza, which led a two-year campaign for the executive order creating the commission, noted that it took the Administration 13 months to appoint the advisory panel, something Mr. Bush himself told the panelists and reporters that he is "embarrassed" about. (See Education Week, Oct. 16, 1991.)

Mr. Yzagnirre said he asked Mr. Bush to make the initiative the subject of a Cabinet meeting and to discuss it in his State of the Union Message in January.

"If he does that," Mr. Yzagnirre said, "it will be a good indication of his commitment." At the commission meeting, Mr.Yzaguirre argued that the panel should focus primarily on securing specific commitments from federal agencies to include more Hispanics and Hispanic organizations in their education programs and to consider programs of interest to Hispanics.

"Much of what's out there we can't affect," he said. "We should focus on what we can affect."

However, Mr. Yzagnirre said, the commission can also have an impact outside Washington by urging improved efforts to enforce civil-rights laws and by "asking state agencies and corporations what they're doing."

"The very asking of the question will cause change," he said.

'Capitalizing on an Opportunity'

But other panel members noted that, while the executive order specifically mandates a report on federal efforts, it also charges the commission with holding hearings and advising the President more broadly on how to improve the education of Hispanics.

"This commission won't do its work if we don't tap the best in the community and give only a Washington point of view," said Andres Bande, the president of the Chicagobased Ameritech International and the chairman of the commission.

Mr. Bande said he would like to assemble a list of education programs that have been successful in helping Hispanics.

Several panel members said they want to draw public attention to Hispanic concerns and to raise the Hispanic community's awareness of the importance of education.

"We have the opportunity to bring high visibility to an issue that is very important to us," said Donna Natalicio, the president of the University of Texas at El Paso. "We have to capitalize on that opportunity."

The commissioners decided that John Florez, the executive director of the initiative, should begin gathering data on Hispanic participation in federal programs, while a smaller group drafts a work plan.

Administration officials apparently view the initiative as an opportunity to advance their America 2000 education-reform strategy. Mr. Bande repeatedly referred to the initiative as a part of America 2000, even though the executive order predates the strategy by six months.

Mr. Bush linked them in his remarks, and Deputy Secretary of Education David T. Kearns discussed America 2000 with the panelists before their meeting.

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