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Federal File: Out to Lunch; Expectations

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Hillary Rodham Clinton, the First Lady, and leading Congressional Democrats had lunch with schoolchildren last week to highlight their opposition to House Republicans' plan to replace child-nutrition programs with block grants.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., the House minority leader, was among the lawmakers who took part in school-lunch events.

Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, D-Ga., ate lunch at the same Washington public school that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., visited--on the same day--to promote the program he has helped support that pays students $2 for each book they read.

Earlier in the week, Democratic leaders held a news conference to protest the proposed changes to the school-meals programs. They brought children--and their lunches--to Capitol Hill to reinforce their point.

Commissioners attending the first official hearing of President Clinton's advisory panel on Hispanic education heard firsthand about the frustrations of their predecessors.

Andres Bande, who served as the chairman of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans under President George Bush, said that his group's efforts received almost no follow-up on the part of Mr. Bush's Administration. Some observers at the time had also criticized the panel as being largely ineffective.

Mr. Bande, the president of the Chicago-based Ameritech International, encouraged the new group, appointed by President Clinton last fall, "not to play politics with our children's lives."

Raul Yzaguirre, the chairman of the new 24-member commission and the president of the National Council of La Raza, said in an interview that he knows some observers are likewise concerned about his group's ultimate effectiveness.

"The expectations are great, but our power and resources are really quite limited," he said.

The current panel, created by a 1994 executive order, is charged with identifying barriers to Hispanic students' participation in federal education programs and pinpointing ways to eliminate educational inequalities among Hispanics. Its first report to the President is due in October.

Last month's hearing was held in Phoenix at a conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education.

--Mark Pitsch & Lynn Schnaiberg

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