U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called on state and local school leaders to focus their attention on creating more career and technical education programs, raising academic standards, and expanding mental health support for students in a set of speeches Monday.
Cardona has spoken in Washington at legislative and policy conferences for the Council of Public School Heads, a nonprofit organization that provides a network for state superintendents and education commissioners, and the Greater City School Board, an alliance of the nation’s 78 largest school districts. . In both speeches, education leaders called for systems to be rewritten so they better support students’ academics, well-being, and lives after graduation.
The Secretary of Education’s speeches were very similar to the one he gave in January at the headquarters of the US Department of Educationin which he laid out his priorities for the year 2023 for management and announced the Raise the Bar: Global Leadershipan effort to raise America’s ranking in educational attainment.
The key to doing this, he said, is to have statewide superintendents, commissioners of education, and leaders of the nation’s largest school districts prioritize student well-being, career paths, bilingual education, and efforts to improve academic achievement.
“Now is the time for education systems that advance our nation’s potential and position us to raise the bar and lead the world for years to come,” Cardona said during the CCSSO speech.
Cardona also used his speeches to address concerns about coronavirus relief funding, as supervisors feel the pressure of looming spending deadlines. Congressional Republicans are pressing for more scrutiny of how the money is being spent, with a new majority in the US House of Representatives.
Navigating the stewardship of COVID-19 relief funds
Cardona acknowledged concerns about the Sept. 30, 2024 deadline for allocating COVID-19 relief funds in a conversation with Kelly Gones, a Los Angeles Unified School District board member and chair of the Great City School Board, after his speech at the conference. (The Los Angeles Unified District is expected to have to close schools for three days this week due to a planned strike by school staff and teachers. The topic was not addressed.) But the education secretary did not indicate any new plans for the administration to extend that deadline.
“There are some very good reasons there are concerns about spending” on COVID funds by the deadline, he said. “We’re listening to that.”
Local school districts and state leaders can help spread the message about the need for these funds by highlighting how they have used the money so far and how they plan to use it in the future, he said.
“We all have to paint the picture,” Cardona said. “You are the best cheerleaders for education funding.”
As the Education Secretary referred to the 2024 budget proposed by President Joe Biden, Which would raise spending on education by 14 percent, as a gain for schools.
Focus on mental health
Cardona also called on state and local school leaders to do what they can to reduce the “youth mental health crisis”. He urged state leaders to rally in the CCSSO to use $1 billion in funding to support school mental health programs designated in the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
The law, passed in June, sets aside funding to support student welfare in response to the mass shooting at Rupp Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in which a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. Cardona said only 15 countries have held grant competitions using this funding so far.
He said, “We have to do better.” “Our students are in dire need right now. Let us support you through this work.”
Funds from the bipartisan Safer Communities Act can be used in a number of ways to support student welfare. Cardona gave examples, such as providing each student with a dedicated mental health and wellbeing class period, as positive ways to use funding. Cardona said state leaders could also use the money to increase the number of social workers and other mental health professionals in schools and encouraged state and local school leaders to partner with local health departments to make this happen.
Former rulers weigh
The state’s Board of School Officers also used its legislative convention to honor former governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Bob Wise of West Virginia with their 2023 Distinguished Service Awards. Bush, a Republican known for his run for president in 2016, is now the president of ExcelinEd, an education policy think tank, and Wise’s job, A Democrat, he is also the president of All4Ed, an education advocacy organization.
Both former governors called for bipartisan partnerships and a focus on improving literacy skills to help students recover from the COVID-19 pandemic during question-and-answer sessions after the awards were announced.
“Countries need to build early childhood literacy strategies,” Bush said. “I think it’s clear that embracing the science of reading is essential to starting that journey.”
Literacy, Bush said, “has great urgency apart from empowering parents.” The former governor would like to see states adopt K-3 reading strategies with transparency about student reading achievement and a curriculum that uses the science of reading.
“Is anyone walking the streets for the fact that we have so many illiterate children starting fourth grade?” Bush said. “Who is outraged about it? Who is walking the streets for them? This must be the civil rights issue of our time. This must be the moral issue of our time.”
Wise encouraged state education leaders to use COVID-19 relief funds to support student achievement and help raise reading and math performance.
“If we don’t do it now, if we don’t do it with the money we have…then shame on us, and what have we done to a generation of our children?” Hakim said. “This is our chance.”