Oral Statement by Miguel Cardona Secretary of Education on the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education

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Oral Statement by Miguel Cardona Secretary of Education on the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education

June 24, 2021

Good morning Chair Scott, Ranking Member Foxx, and distinguished members of the Committee.

This past year, we have had plenty of quantitative data on the effects of the pandemic around the country.  Whether it's cases per 100,000, deaths, or more recently, % vaccinated, we have a snapshot of the challenges we face.  It helps to connect people to numbers.  I recently had a conversation with high school students at Harvey Milk High School in New York City.  One student's story stood out: he lost his grandmother to Covid-19 and his significant other to suicide in the last 10 months.  As he returned to school, something that he was very much looking forward to, he asked me to ensure that he and all students across the country would walk into welcoming environments, free from judgment, with mental health support to address the trauma they experienced.  He shared that, while he missed a lot academically, he was hopeful that the school could provide the support he needed to catch up and thrive.

That is why I am here today.

I am proud to testify today about the policies and priorities of the Department of Education, including our fiscal year 2022 Budget Request that makes good on President Biden's commitment to invest in education.  It also begins to address the significant inequities that students—primarily students of color—confront every day in schools and in pursuit of higher education and career and technical education.

I want to thank the Members of the Committee who helped ensure passage of the American Rescue Plan, bringing vital resources to our schools and colleges across the country.  These funds will ensure that schools re-open for full-time, in-person instruction as safely and as soon as possible.

I come to you with a great sense of urgency about our work. Generations of inequity have left far too many students without equitable access to high-quality, inclusive learning opportunities, including in our rural communities.  Education can be the great equalizer — it was for me — if we prioritize, replicate, and invest in what works for all students.

We must do more to level the playing field, including providing a strong foundation from birth, improving diversity among the teacher workforce, and creating learning pathways that work for all students.

To that end, the budget proposal calls on Congress to invest nearly $103 billion in Department of Education programs, a 41 percent increase over the fiscal year 2021 appropriation to support students' success.  The fiscal year 2022 request also makes a meaningful down payment toward the Biden-Harris Administration's goal of addressing inequities. The centerpiece is a proposal for a new $20 billion Title I Equity Grants program that tackles disparities between under-resourced schools and their wealthier counterparts, supports competitive compensation for teachers in Title I schools, expands access to pre-K, and increases preparation for, access to, and success in rigorous coursework.

Our request puts the Nation on a path to double the number of school counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals in our schools, and significantly expands support for community schools to increase the availability of wrap-around services in underserved schools and communities.

We also think it is past time for the Federal Government to make good on its commitment to students with disabilities and their families, and the request makes a significant move toward full funding of IDEA, proposing a 20 percent increase for IDEA State grants of $2.6 billion dollars.

Turning to higher education, an area that needs immediate attention, our budget proposal furthers the Biden-Harris Administration's work to increase access and affordability for students. The budget proposal, coupled with the increase proposed in the American Families Plan, would be the largest ever Pell Grant increase, helping millions of students and families. Importantly, our proposal also ensures that DREAMers may receive Pell Grants if they meet the current eligibility requirements.

Through the American Families Plan, our budget proposal provides two years of free community college to first-time students and those wishing to reskill. It also makes college more affordable for low- and middle-income students at four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions such as Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions.  The budget also proposes increases for TRIO and GEAR UP to help ensure underserved students succeed in and graduate from college.

Finally, we prioritize efforts to enforce civil rights laws related to education to protect students and advance equity in educational opportunity and delivery in preschool through college.

Working together, we can and will heal, learn, and grow through this challenging time. I am committed to working collaboratively with each of you to strengthen our schools and campuses and to help improve opportunities, pathways, and outcomes for students across the country.

Thank you, and I look forward to any questions you may have.