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Panel on Hispanic Education Finds Work Slow Going

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WASHINGTON--When the President's commission on Hispanic education met here last week, it was an advisory body with little advice offering a progress report that found little progress.

Commission members said they had difficulty finding useful information on what federal agencies are doing to promote the well-being of Hispanics--the main focus of the panel--and thus could offer few recommendations after a year of work.

"We have found that we don't know a whole lot and there is not a lot of information out there,'' one commissioner, Carol Pendas Whitten, told her fellow panelists.

"The commission itself hasn't jelled in terms of having a clear vision of what they want to do,'' another commission member, Raul H. Yzaguirre, the president of the National Council of La Raza, added in an interview.

In the progress report issued last week, the commission does propose a plan for getting the private sector involved in Hispanic education. And the report provides a summary of much of the information that is available on how well Hispanics are served by various federal agencies.

"We have had a look at the report and think they have done a good job of identifying problems and laying out a course of action,'' Lanny Griffith, the Education Department's assistant secretary for intergovernmental and inter-agency affairs, said in an interview.

Future After Election

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander assured commission members during a closed meeting that the panel--set up under an executive order signed by President Bush in 1990--would be rechartered so it can continue its work and submit a final report in two years, spokesmen for the department said.

Department officials also told the commission that they would seek to provide the panel with more funding to address its complaints of lacking staff and resources.

But some of the 18 members, who were appointed by Mr. Bush, voiced doubts about the future of the panel if the President is not re-elected.

"An election is coming up and an agreement with Lamar Alexander may not mean anything,'' Tania R. Seale, a history teacher at Miami Senior High School who serves on the panel, said during the commission's open meeting.

Secretary Alexander's own agency reportedly came under fire from Mr. Yzaguirre during the Secretary's closed meeting with the panel last week.

Mr. Yzaguirre said afterward that he had told Mr. Alexander that the Education Department hires and promotes too few Hispanics and has moved too slowly in providing the commission with information and in making plans to address Hispanic concerns related to children.

"We had some sparks during the meeting,'' Mr. Yzaguirre said.

Underrepresented in Programs

The commission was critical of other federal agencies as well.

Its report notes that only 33 percent of program managers in various federal agencies were able to provide statistics on the number and proportion of Hispanics participating in their programs.

The commission found that, "not surprisingly,'' Hispanics account for a high proportion of those served by such programs as migrant and bilingual education.

"Over all, however, even though Hispanics made up 9 percent of the population and comprised 18 percent of the persons living in poverty in the United States in 1991,'' the report points out, "the most commonly reported proportion of Hispanics participating in education and education-related federal programs was only 3 to 5 percent of total participants.''

Several commission members also asserted at last week's open meeting that the Education Department's office for civil rights has fallen short in enforcing antidiscrimination laws as they apply to Hispanics.

"There is not enforcement of current civil-rights legislation. That is critical in every department,'' said Gloria Gonzales Roemer, a commission member who serves as vice president of an oil company.

In their quest for information from federal agencies on how the government is serving Hispanics, commission members said, they found that no other entity had attempted to gather such information, that few comparative data from other ethnic or racial groups were available, and that some agencies had been prohibited by law from gathering the type of information the commission wanted.

Private Involvement Sought

The chief proposal in the commission's progress report is a call for the creation of a nongovernmental national Hispanic-education council that would develop policy options and programs to promote educational excellence for Hispanics.

The council, to be created from the private sector, would conduct public-awareness projects, establish a resource center for helping Hispanics find scholarships and college financial aid, and attempt to create a network for various government and nongovernment groups addressing Hispanic education.

The commission also recommends improvements in the federal government's methods of collecting data on Hispanics.

But the commission angered some Hispanic organizations by calling mostly for private-sector initiatives.

Janice Petrovich, the executive director of ASPIRA, a national Latino youth-leadership organization, contended last week that the report "exonerates the federal government of any responsibility in improving Latino education.''

The report's absence of recommendations for federal action also drew criticism from the Hispanic Education Coalition, which consists of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and other groups.

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