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Hispanic Link News Service

Latino Education Commission Decries Past, But Sees Bright Future


October 8, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Hispanic Link News Service. All Rights Reserved.

Ten years and a day after it was created by President George Bush, the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans issued what may be its final report on the nation's continuing failure to educate Latino students.

With U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and most of its 21 current members present, the commission shared the 76-page document with the media at the National Press Club on Sept. 25. Also that day, the commission officially transmitted the report to President Clinton and all 535 members of Congress.

Overall, ``Creating the Will: Hispanics Achieving Educational Excellence'' offers a critical yet optimistic analysis. It acknowledges a list of problems besetting Hispanics -- from preschool (20 percent enrollment of 3-year-olds vs. 44 percent for blacks and 42 percent for whites), through high school (63 percent completion rate vs. 81 percent for blacks and 90 percent among whites) into higher education (while Hispanics constitute 14.5 percent of the college-age population, only 9 percent of undergraduate students and 4 percent of graduate students are Hispanic). The report also highlights strategies that are working effectively in a number of communities.

Specifically, the commission recommends more emphasis on initiatives that will encourage greater parental involvement, train more bicultural teachers and develop more after-school and mentoring programs.

In recent years, the panel has called on community organizations and the private sector to join in identifying and pursuing successful strategies. Additionally, it has pressed all federal agencies to detail in writing and expand efforts to support Hispanic education reform.

Secretary Riley told his Press Club audience that the United States must no longer deny a quality education to 6 million Latino public school students. ``We need to have much higher expectations of our Hispanic children,'' he said.

Since President Bush initiated the commission on Sept. 24, 1990, it has undergone a series of changes in leadership and focus.

In its first year, the commission had three different executive directors. It has never received much of a budget. Housed for the most part within the U.S. Department of Education, it has been staffed mostly with executives loaned from that department and other federal agencies.

It remained dormant for months after Bush left office. Finally, in response to more than a year of lobbying by Latino organizations, in February 1994 President Clinton reconstituted it.

Its mandate remains in effect until the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2001, but its renewal depends on the incoming administration.

National Council of La Raza President Raúl Yzaguirre chaired the rejuvenated body but quit after a year, frustrated over the commission's ``inability to rise from the bureaucratic morass and partisan politics to deliver a substantive, independent report to the president.''

Its present director, Sarita Brown, told Hispanic Link that the initiative's office now functions with four regular staff members. The total budget to cover expenses and activities was $143,000 for the past fiscal year 2000, which ended Sept. 30. At the press conference, Univisión news anchor/correspondent Teresa Rodríguez detailed the Spanish-language television network's commitment to the body's mission.

In its effort to ``serve an under-served community,'' she said, Univisión has developed and broadcast a series of public service announcements with the theme Tu futuro depende de ti. ... ¡Educate! ``Your future depends on you. Get an education.''

Additionally, it launched a reading partnership with Scholastic Books to promote early literacy.

World Duty Free America chief Ramón Bósquez described his company's initiatives with community groups and colleges to create work-study programs and teach accounting and law skills. And community organizations -- such as the Massachusetts Education Initiative for Latino Students, the first such statewide Hispanic education initiative in the country -- have also been tapped by the commission to develop a statewide Latino education agenda, says MEILS co-chair Antonia Jiménez.

The commissioners, led by popular New York City Council member Guillermo Linares, seem at last to have built some internal harmony, settled on a well-defined strategy and -- aided by a series of hearings conducted around the country -- created a growing constituency willing to work with them.

Many of the initiative's political backers, including Riley, however, will be leaving office soon. And with a new president running the show in January, even if the commission is allowed to continue pursuing its objectives, the present crew of commissioners isn't likely to be asked to stay on.

Yet deputy director Deborah Santiago remains optimistic. ``We went beyond rhetoric to action,'' she says. ``The commission will go on if the new administration recognizes the need.''

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