Education Secretary Cites Federal Initiatives in Support of Schools

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told school leaders the Biden Administration is coordinating efforts to quell community violence, which  too often spills into schools. His priority, he said, is to make sure those efforts don’t sap school resources.

    “I can’t have you sacrificing the staff that you need to address mental health needs or safety on campus ... [or] at the expense of the support that students need in literacy, numeracy, STEM, and pathways,” Cardona said. “So that’s my commitment to you.”

    Cardona was interviewed by Sonja Brookins Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, at the Council’s recent Legislative/Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

    “We’re advocating that the Department of Education work with mayors, governors, state legislative leaders, because I don’t want you sacrificing reading teachers to get more police officers,” the secretary said. There’s also an “interagency” effort with the justice and homeland security departments to provide technical assistance, along with the Office of Gun Violence Prevention at the White House, Cardona said.

    He urged school chiefs and board members to foster “interdependence in communities” to begin to solve the spread of violence.

    Santelises described herself, at the helm of Baltimore schools, and fellow educators as facing “an explosion of mental health challenges with our young people.”

    Expressing agreement, Cardona fretted that too many states “are going backwards” to the old “emergency model of mental health,” where the child “has to have a traumatic experience to get support.”

    “Mental health is not just seeing the social worker when you have a problem, mental health is being in an inclusive environment that sees you for who you are and respects you for who you are.” 

    The education secretary credited education leaders-and federal funding flowing from the American Rescue Plan-for gains in math and reading, additional school social workers and nurses, teacher apprenticeships, and more, saying, “That’s your leadership, that’s your ability to take a bad situation in this pandemic, benefit from federal dollars and use it well.”

    Cardona’s pitch to Congress, he said, is this: “Look at what’s happening”- the gains schools have achieved. “I always say, we want Finland results, but we don’t make Finland [level] investments. Let’s start making Finland investments and we’re going to get Finland results, right?”

    The secretary also pushed districts to increase the number of FAFSA applications. The administration is “trying to widen the aperture of access to higher education through a better FAFSA” process, though the rollout of technical upgrades has caused delays this spring. 

    “The good news is that over 600,000 more students can now be eligible for up to $7,400 in federal dollars,” Cardona said. “That’s going to be a net plus for schools, for students, and most important, for our country.”