Thoughts on Secretary Cardona’s Speech on ED’s 2023 Priorities
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona addressed the nation on Tuesday in a speech called ‘Raise the Bar: Lead the World,” where he discussed the Department’s priorities for the coming year and the progress made to date on the administration’s initiatives.
The Education Trust welcomes his remarks and shares his focus on several priorities:
COVID Recovery: States have roughly two years remaining to ensure that the funds appropriated in response to the damaging effects of the pandemic on students, families, and educators are allocated. A review of spending indicates that more than $130 billion of the funding has yet to be allocated. Of the money allocated between June 2020 and July 2021, about 43% of that funding was allocated to students’ academic and emotional needs.
The American Rescue Plan Act allocated funds with a requirement that 20% of those funds be spent to address “learning loss” and that most of that funding — at least $109 billion — will go directly to local school districts. That floor has helped fund positive interventions like summer learning, extended learning time, and intensive tutoring that are helping students, as well as other promising practices. For example, Tennessee has funded a Tutoring Corps that has successfully recovered students’ English achievement to levels from before the pandemic and has improved students’ math and science achievement levels. This approach has been effective enough to secure state funding for the program alongside the federal investment.
Secretary Cardona issued a challenge to state and local officials to find the funding for positive interventions to continue past the deadline for spending ARP funds. Ed Trust echoes his goals and stands ready to help facilitate promising practices wherever possible.
While there is still $130 billion in the coffers, advocates must resist the urge to solely call for urgency in spending. It’s not just a question of how fast school districts are spending this money, but how well are they spending the money to address unfinished learning and advance equity. Rather, we should all be calling for district leaders to spend these dollars with “trackable speed” on evidence-based solutions and to be transparent with affected students and families and the entire community.
Educator Diversity: Teachers are the most important in-school factor when it comes to student success. Students with strong teachers receive the equivalent of extra months of learning and are essential, especially in light of the unfinished learning caused by COVID-19. Additionally, research has shown that all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, benefit socially, emotionally, and academically from a diverse teacher workforce. Unfortunately, teachers of color are more likely to experience burnout and leave the profession at higher rates than their White peers, and there is a dramatic mismatch between the percentages of students of color and teachers of color in the current educator workforce. The Department plays a key role in helping states and schools diversify their educator workforce and boost student outcomes by recruiting, supporting, and retaining more educators of color. Ed Trust supports recommendations to promote teacher diversity alongside additional investment in programs like the Augustus Hawkins Centers of Excellence.
To see how your state is prioritizing teacher diversity and equity, use our 50-state scan to review each state’s educator diversity data and policy profile, and see how your state rates against other states.
Safe and Affirming School Environments: To better support student’s social, emotional, and academic development, school leaders must continue to boldly improve learning conditions, and to invest in evidence-based, holistic approaches that foster a safe, inclusive, and affirming environment. Over the course of the pandemic, students have experienced significant challenges that have negatively affected their mental health and well-being. In response, Congress has taken critical legislative action by passing the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to expand access to mental health supports for students. As the Secretary rightly pointed out, however, the work is far from finished. We are supportive of the Secretary’s call for a continued commitment to improving learning conditions in schools, including moving away from exclusionary discipline policies toward evidence-based approaches that better address student needs.
Access to Quality Early Childhood Education: We are supportive of the Secretary’s call for expanding access to preschool programs in low-income communities. This is responsive to the brutal fact that a majority of Latino families reside in child care deserts. Additionally, if programs are available, the cost can take up to 116% of a low-income family’s household income, making it functionally impossible to access. As such, even when states do fund high-quality preschool, access is often lower for Black and Latino children, who are underrepresented in several such programs. Much more must be done through federal investments and state efforts to broaden access to high quality early childhood programs for families of color.
In summary, Ed Trust applauds the ambition behind Secretary Cardona’s vision for education in the U.S. But there is much work to be done. It is incumbent upon every education advocate not only hold him accountable to his promises, but to work at the state and local level to ensure that policies and practices are equitable and carried out with fidelity. The U.S. education system is under attack, and we must do everything we can to preserve it.