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White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 13, 2021 2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
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President Joe Biden signed an executive order Monday intended to coordinate efforts across the federal government to improve educational and economic outcomes for Hispanics.

The White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics will focus on policies that address “systemic causes” of challenges faced by students, improve their access to high-quality teachers, and address racial disparities in education funding, among other issues. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will serve as chairman of the initiative, which will be established at the U.S. Department of Education, and Cardona in turn will pick its executive director.

Twenty-four cabinet departments or other agencies in the federal government will participate in a working group to collaborate through the initiative. The Education Department will provide support and funding for the interagency working group “to the extent permitted by law and within existing appropriations,” the executive order states.

In addition, Biden’s order establishes a Presidential Advisory Commission that will provide guidance to the president on related topics in both K-12 and higher education.

Biden’s executive order notes that 14 million students in elementary and secondary schools are Hispanic, out of roughly 50 million total nationally, yet Hispanic students are underrepresented in early-education programs and advanced coursework in the nation’s schools.

“We must enable Hispanic and Latino students to reach their highest potential through our Nation’s schools and institutions of higher education,” the executive order says. “The Federal Government must also collaborate with Hispanic and Latino communities to ensure their long-term success.”

Biden signed the executive order on the eve of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Cardona identifies as Latino and is of Puerto Rican heritage.

Initiatives and commissions like the ones Biden announced Monday that have previously focused on specific populations of students often don’t impact policy or practice in the way the Education Department and other powerful federal agencies do. Yet they can draw plenty of attention and spur action.

One of the most prominent examples of this took place under President Barack Obama, whose appointees to similar education initiatives launched My Brother’s Keeper, which sought to improve opportunities and outcomes for Black, Hispanic, and Native American boys. That initiative, launched in 2014 with the backing of $200 million from outside foundations, eventually merged with the Obama Foundation.

President Donald Trump’s administration shifted the mission of the Hispanic group and rebranded it as the President’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity. The executive director’s position at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans was vacant under Trump until last year, when the administration picked Terris Todd to lead the initiative for African-Americans. In 2020, the Trump White House also selected former New Mexico Lieutenant Gov. John Sanchez to lead the Hispanic Prosperity Commission.

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