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Washington Briefs

Ed. Dept. Speaker Criticizes Republicans

WASHINGTON — A former teacher described Govs. George W. and Jeb Bush as racists during a U.S. Department of Education seminar on promoting diversity last month, and at least one lawmaker is demanding an explanation.
Jane Elliot, an author who delivers lectures worldwide on race and bias issues, was invited to the Education Department to deliver a presentation March 8 on how children become prejudiced.
During the presentation, she also advised about 50 employees who attended not to vote for Republican political candidates, department officials acknowledged. The Bushes both are Republicans.
Erica Lepping, a spokeswoman for U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, says that department officials are unclear on the context of the remarks.
“We had no reason to believe Ms. Elliot’s presentation would end up with her saying the things she did,” Lepping says. “The comments were spontaneous and unanticipated.”
Lepping, who did not attend the meeting, says that Leslie Thornton, the department’s chief of staff, immediately sent an e-mail memo to staffers denouncing Elliot’s political statements as “comments that were inappropriate in an address to federal employees.”
Elliot could not be reached for comment. She is a former third-grade teacher from Iowa and creator of a well-known diversity lesson that separates students based on eye color. She received about $7,500 to present at the seminar.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, criticized the seminar as an example of mismanagement at the department and says he has asked department officials for more details of Elliot’s talk.
“I want a full explanation from the department about this seminar and what they are doing to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen again,” Hoekstra says.
There was no immediate comment from representatives of George W. Bush. Justin Sayfie, a spokesman for Jeb Bush, says the governor’s “record on diversity and inclusion in office speaks for itself. As far as the specific allegation… it is absurd.”

Riley Urges                   Dual-Language Schools

WASHINGTON — Hispanic students are twice as likely as Blacks and three times as likely as Whites to drop out of high school, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics that suggest the nation is ill equipped to deal with the fastest-growing group of schoolchildren.
U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, hoping to create a brighter future for these children, is asking public school districts to establish 1,000 dual-language schools over the next five years to instruct children in English and in a native language such as Spanish.
“If we see to it that immigrants and their children can speak only English and nothing more, then we will have missed one of the greatest opportunities of this new century,” Riley said last month. “It is high time we begin to treat language skills as the asset they are.”
He contends that dual-language instruction has proven to help Hispanic children do better academically as well as preserve children’s heritage and promote bilingualism that can help students in an increasingly global economy.
Dual-language instruction is one of three main, often hotly debated approaches to teaching the 3 million U.S. students with limited English proficiency, of which nearly 75 percent are Hispanic. These students, designated by school tests and other measures as non-English speakers, also are taught in English-only classes or completely in
their native languages.

Watts Pushes for
GOP, HBCU Caucus

WASHINGTON — It sounds like a scene from The Odd Couple: conservative Republican lawmakers meeting with Black college presidents. But such a summit may take place if Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., gets his way.
Watts, an African American conservative, wants to bring the presidents of historically Black colleges and universities together with GOP leaders to discuss issues facing Black colleges — from the need for more modern facilities to the pressures facing schools that enroll a large number of low-income students.
“We must find new solutions to some of the old problems that historically Black colleges and universities face today,” he says. “It is my hope this historic summit will bring educators and legislators together to help every student achieve a quality education in this new century.”
Watts says that nearly 90 percent of HBCU students receive financial aid, which presents challenges on retention. And because many of the nation’s 100-plus HBCUs also were built more than 100 years ago, they face a challenge in providing state-of-the-art environments, he adds.
“It is my goal to make sure every student is equipped with up-to-date technology and resources they need to compete in this new global economy,” says Watts, who outlined the plan in a speech at Oklahoma’s Langston University.

New Bill Would Fund Leadership Institute

WASHINGTON — New legislation introduced last month in Congress would fund a leadership institute at Hampton University, a private, 5,700-student historically Black college in Hampton, Va.
U.S. Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., introduced the Booker T. Washington Leadership Act to establish the institute, which would focus on the development of values and interpersonal skills needed for leadership in business, politics and civic life.
Washington, a Hampton alumnus, “championed the idea that Black colleges and universities should embrace the responsibility not only to train men and women in their disciplines and trades, but to create and sustain new institutions and communities driven by the principle of service,” Scott says. “The mission of this institute reflects that vision.”
Hampton, he says, is a logical location for such an institute because it has more than doubled its student population during the past 20 years while accepting students with higher SAT scores.
Hampton Univerisity President Dr. Bill Harvey has made leadership training a priority in his ambitious $200 million capital campaign.
The bill calls for the federal government to provide two $7.5 million grants to support the institute.

Martinez Loses
Re-Election Bid

WASHINGTON — A senior member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a longtime education advocate lost his bid for re-election last month.
U.S. Rep. Matthew Martinez, D-Calif., 71, lost a primary challenge in a race for his 11th term in Congress. The fourth most senior Democrat on the powerful Education and the Workforce Committee, Martinez was particularly active on higher education issues and served as the senior Democrat on that panel’s higher education subcommittee.
Martinez lost his race to state Sen. Hilda Solis, who had charged that the incumbent was out of touch with his district. The primary battle divided some members of Congress’ Hispanic Caucus. At least one member, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., openly supported Solis’ bid.

Changes Proposed for Minority Science Program

WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Education officials recently proposed some major changes in the federal government’s Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program.
Among the changes suggested is one that would require minority-serving, two-year colleges and universities to establish formal partnerships with four-year institutions as a condition of participation.
The proposal also calls for expanding the definitions of eligibility under the program, currently funded at $7.5 million under Title III of the Higher Education Act, a part of the law that also includes aid to Black colleges.          

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