WASHINGTON (CN) - President Obama renewed an executive order Tuesday aimed at improving education for Hispanic students, many of whom drop out of high school. "Making sure that we offer all our kids, regardless of race, a world-class education is more than a moral obligation. It is an economic imperative," Obama said in the East Room.
"This is not just a Latino problem, this is an American problem," he told the crowd filled with Hispanic community leaders.
Obama was introduced by Javier Garcia, a Hispanic seventh-grader who competed in the national chess championships. Garcia said his favorite subjects were math and science.
"I will not play you chess," Obama said. "You may not have won at the nationals, but you'd beat me."
One in five children in elementary and secondary schools in the United States are Latino, more than 11 million.
The renewal of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, first launched in 1990 under President George H.W. Bush, is intended to ramp up educational support measures for the Hispanic community.
"Latino students are more likely to attend our lowest-performing schools, more likely to learn in larger class sizes, more likely to drop out at higher rates," Obama said. Fewer than half of Hispanics attend early childhood education programs, and about half graduate on time from high school, he said.
Among adult Hispanics, 12 percent have a bachelor's degree and 4 percent have finished graduate or professional degree programs. The national unemployment rate, 9.6 percent, is almost double for those without a college degree, Obama said.
Obama situated the order within his larger education goals, especially his objective to increase the country's share of college graduates to the world's highest by 2020.
Over the past generation, Obama said, the United States has slipped in its level of college graduates from first to ninth in the world, ensuring that other countries are "outeducating us."
As part of the renewed initiative, Obama created a 30-member advisory commission composed of Latino leaders to advise the administration. The commission will be chaired by Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade Community College, who has helped Obama in his efforts to improve community colleges.
Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the nation, with a population of 52 million.
"The farther they go in school, the farther they will go in life, and that means the farther we'll go as a country," Obama said.
In a press conference before the signing, reporters asked if the timing of the event reflected an attempt by the administration to drum up support in the Hispanic community in the countdown to midterm elections.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that it was not a political maneuver.
"We're doing all that we can ... because it's the right thing to do, not to be political," he said.