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Bush School Order: a Mixed Reaction


WASHINGTON — Raul Yzaguirre, president of National Council of La Raza, had hoped that the months of hearings and information-gathering by a presidential task force on Latino education would yield significant results, such as a national report on its findings.

"We thought there would be a report" from the task force, said Yzaguirre. "That is a disappointment."

Still, Yzaguirre's organization isn't going to dwell on the absence of a report. Instead it is focusing on what did result from the task force: an executive order from President Bush aimed at improving the educational achievement of the nation's 20 million Latinos.

"It took over two years of very hard work to finally get something that was fairly compelling. We did it. We finally got it done; it is one of the most important events in terms of policy so far," he said.

At the same time, a number of Latino leaders expressed disappointment at the order's lack of specifics, including funding sources. They say that an important hurdle remains--getting funds to implement the order's objectives.

Bush's signing of the executive order came Sept. 24. The occasion was a Hispanic Heritage Month event at the White House Rose Garden attended by more than 1,300 Latino leaders, Civil Service members, politicians and community organizers.

Bush's directive, known formally as the Executive Order on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans:

* Establishes a Latino advisory commission in the Education Department to give advice on parental involvement in student education, the promotion of early childhood education, the removal of barriers to their success in education and work, and helping students to achieve their potential at all education levels. Commission members are to be appointed by the President.

* Creates an Education Department office called the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. (Gilbert D. Roman, an Education Department official, later was named to head the office.)

* Directs "Cabinet agencies to be actively involved in helping advance educational opportunities" for Latinos.

Eleven months ago, Bush directed Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos to form the Presidential Task Force on Hispanic Education. At the time, Bush said, "Sadly, Hispanic Americans are especially undereducated. As Hispanics become the largest minority group in the United States in the next century, it becomes more and more important to overcome the crisis in Hispanic education."

Bush pointed out that among Latinos 25 and older, "an alarming 52% have not completed high school education, compared to 21% of non-Hispanics."

The task force held public meetings that began last April in San Antonio to hear the testimony of educators and parents. Other hearings followed in Boston, Chicago, Miami and, last June, in Los Angeles.

Cavazos presented an oral report of the task force's recommendations to the White House's Domestic Policy Council, which in turn drew up the executive order for the President.

Despite the expectation of many Latino organizations, the task force was not required to issue a written report of its findings, said Etta Fielek, a spokeswoman for Cavazos. Yet Cavazos is "considering how to discuss in a more public way the feedback he got from citizens," Fielek said. Information gathered at a series of public hearings last summer may be compiled into "some sort of departmental report," she said.

Bush's executive order brought guarded optimism from other Latino leaders.

"You need to build, and this is the cornerstone. It's a big step in the right direction," said Mario Moreno, director of the Washington regional office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "We were looking for something with a little more teeth in it, such as money. It's pretty broad."

Moreno said his group did not "harp on how much money" the educational programs would cost because "it was a concept we were trying to get accepted first." Still, he said, "the problem won't be solved by reshuffling existing monies."

Leticia Quezada, the only Latino school board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said, "I'm very pleased with the advent of a presidential executive order . . . but I can't help but feel that I'm still waiting for something else.

"I keep saying, 'Well, what did you find out, and if what you found out is that there's going to be another commission, that means more fact-finding.' How long are we going to keep researching before we get to some action? After a while, you wonder how many people are going to drop out and how many generations are going to get lost because of that waiting," Quezada said.

"We have no response yet on those hearings and what the secretary intends to do with the findings. There's nothing there yet that's concrete. I want to be able to have a program. I want to be able to have a date for some initiative," said Quezada, who intends to submit her name for the commission.

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