Shirley Hufstedler, President Carter's controversial choice as secretary of the new Department of Education, has embarked on a busy cross-country speaking tour to sing the praises of the president. Insiders tell me the reason is that Carter has promised to make her the first woman on the Supreme Court.

Critics complain that Hufstedler's Supreme Court ambitions have led her to follow middle-of-the-road policies, hoping to avoid controversy that might block her potential appointment to the high court.

But Hufstedler's actions as education secretary -- and her appointment to the post itself -- stirred bitter resentment in the Hispanic community. They insist that Carter promised he'd appoint a Hispanic, as a sign of his support for the Hispanic community -- particularly for bilingual-bicultural education policies.

"Hufstedler and Carter are stabbing the Hispanic community in the back," Colorado state Rep. Federico Pena bluntly charges.

Key to implementation of the Bilingual Bicultural Education Act are regulations that must be published in the Federal Register before the Office of Civil Rights can move in. After lengthy stalling, Hufstedler has agreed to publish regualtions next month.

But Hispanic leaders tell me the regulations "are so watered-down and weak that we're worse off than when we started this struggle."