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Obama signs executive order enhancing Hispanic education initiative

By Tom Cohen, CNN
  • The new order expands a 1990 presidential initiative
  • Its goal is a greater community role in improving education for Hispanic students
  • More than half of Hispanic students drop out of high school

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed an executive order that updates and enhances a 1990 presidential initiative intended to boost education for Hispanic students.

The expanded White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics, originally launched by the administration of President George H.W. Bush, seeks to improve educational opportunities for Hispanic students at every level, Obama said in a White House ceremony.

He cited alarming statistics for the largest minority group in American schools, such as fewer than half of Hispanic children attend early childhood education programs and more than half drop out of high school.

"This is not just a Latino problem; it's an American problem," Obama said, "We've got to solve it."

The order signed by Obama includes an enhanced interagency working group and a 30-member presidential advisory commission as part of the initiative's work.

Obama called ensuring a top education for all children, regardless of race, both a moral obligation and an "economic imperative" for America's future success.

The event followed a Department of Education summit on Monday involving administration officials, education experts and Hispanic community leaders.

According to a post on the White House website, the new executive order "is based on feedback gathered by the initiative in more than 100 community conversations across the country with experts in education, community leaders from more than 30 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from comments from more than 10,000 Americans on how to develop real solutions to the challenges confronting the Hispanic community in education."

The website post says enhancements to the initiative will increase the engagement of communities across the county in "the process of improving the education of Latino students."

Asked Tuesday if the timing of the event -- two weeks before congressional elections -- was politically motivated, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said it was "the right thing to do" rather than a political gesture.

Obama, however, touched on some political themes in his remarks. He noted some critics would question whether the effort to improve education for Hispanic students is worth it, as the problems continue 20 years after the initiative was launched.

"Fixing what is broken in our education system is not easy. It won't happen overnight," Obama said, adding that progress may not be evident for years or decades. "As long as I'm president, I will not give in to calls to short-change any of our students."

On the campaign trail, Obama has accused Republicans of planning to cut education spending if they regain control of Congress.

While Republicans advocate widespread spending cuts to balance the federal budget, including across-the-board reductions in some non-military spending, they have yet to propose any specific reductions for education.