Dr. Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for Education Secretary, spoke with the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions during a hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 2. Educators across the country were excited to hear from the former educator and union member; they know Cardona will ensure educators’ voices are heard in the Department of Education.
“Miguel Cardona’s experience as an educator was on full display today at his Senate confirmation hearing. He demonstrated deep knowledge of the many challenges our students and educators face and the just, equitable solutions we need,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.
Throughout the hearing, Secretary-designate Cardona walked the Senate Committee through his priorities for the Department of Education and students across the country, bringing his classroom experience to bear on a variety of topics. Specifically, Cardona committed to bridge gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and continue the work after all students and educators are vaccinated and return to school buildings.
“If we really want to recover, we really need to invest now, or we’re going to pay later,” said Cardona.
Here are five things educators heard Cardona commit to during his confirmation hearing:
Cardona will bring students back to classrooms, support mental health resources
“We will work to reopen schools SAFELY, so that students can return to classrooms,” said Cardona. Students are resilient in times of crisis, noted Cardona, but they need to have the necessary support structures in place to receive the best education possible.
Cardona prioritized increasing mental health resources as central to school responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Educators take on the stressors that students are experiencing,” said Cardona. He noted specifically that President Biden endorses tripling funding for Title I, which would increase wraparound supports for students during and after the pandemic. Cardona also supported full federal funding for IDEA, which he called a “game-changer” for schools and communities.
Cardona will support all LGBTQ+ Students
“It’s non-negotiable to make sure that our learning environments are places that are free of discrimination and harassment for all learners, including our LGBTQ students,” said Cardona. When asked by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) about allowing students to compete in sports regardless of gender identity, Cardona confirmed that he would uphold the civil rights of all students.
“I think that it’s critically important that the education systems and educators respect the rights of all students, including students who are transgender,” Cardona said. He continued, “[it is the] legal responsibility of schools to allow students to participate in extracurricular activities, including transgender students.”
Cardona reiterated again that discrimination based on gender is illegal. His commitment to protect all students goes beyond the LGBTQ+ community as well, to include all marginalized communities.
He will support students striving for higher education
Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) asked Cardona about education funding as schools and communities continue to grapple with the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Front and center for Cardona was the discussion around college affordability and accessibility. Speaking about his own family, Cardona mentioned that his son, a junior in high school, is currently earning some college credits. He sees such dual enrollment programs as an opportunity more students should be able to access.
The Biden administration has temporarily halted payments on federal student loans until September 2021 due to the pandemic and is looking longer-term to relieve at least $10,000 in debt for borrowers. During the hearing, Cardona additionally committed to use all the tools at his disposal to provide student loan borrowers with immediate relief. Specifically, he intends to reform the Office of Federal Student Aid so it works for student borrowers and not greedy corporations.
“We will make sure that when students graduate from high school, they have college and career pathways to good futures,” said Cardona. He also pointed to the nation’s best-kept secret, community colleges, as a means of saving money for students, and career/technical education programs.
Cardona also noted in response to questions from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that there is a disproportionate impact of student loan debt on communities of color, particularly Black and Latino communities. On average, Cardona mentioned, these communities are still paying off their student loans 12 years after they graduate, and often owe more because of compounded interest. As of today 1 in 5 adults holds student loans.
He will address the digital divide, other inequities
During the pandemic, the digital divide has deepened for students of color and those in rural communities. Previously, Cardona worked with rural districts in his home state of Connecticut where he was the Commissioner of Education. As U.S. Secretary of Education, Cardona committed to working with and understanding issues with connectivity and addressing other needs to bridge the homework gap nationwide, starting with funding.
“Investing in public education changes lives and saves lives. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. And I know that our challenges ahead are problems we can overcome together,” said Cardona, who reiterated that it is a Day One priority to work toward eliminating opportunity gaps for students.
“We will boldly address educational inequities head-on and hold ourselves accountable for providing equitable outcomes from pre-kindergarten through college and into adult learning,” said Cardona. Early in the hearing Cardona also mentioned adopting restorative practices to keep students in school and provide them with support instead of punishment, providing a “learning opportunity for our students and bringing a stronger sense of community as a result.”
He will celebrate diversity
As a first-generation college graduate and English Language Learner, Cardona knows first-hand what support means for students of color and immigrant students. During the hearing, Cardona spoke about establishing support structures for immigrant students and students of color.
“We really have to rethink how we are [teaching language], and understand the value and benefit of not only being bilingual in this country but being bicultural, and your ability to work globally if you can do that,” said Cardona. He continued, “If we can get students to graduate school with a celebration of differences, they’re going to be much more successful in the global economy we’re in.”
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