Oral Statement by Miguel Cardona Secretary of Education On School Reopening During COVID-19: Supporting Students, Educators, and Families

Oral Statement by Miguel Cardona Secretary of Education On School Reopening During COVID-19: Supporting Students, Educators, and Families

September 30, 2021

Good morning, Chair Murray and Ranking Member Burr.

I’m honored to be alongside my colleague and friend, Secretary Becerra, speaking about the critical work of safely reopening our nation’s schools for in-person learning.

President Biden made clear on this Administration’s first day that getting all students safely into the classroom is a top priority. That has been mine as well. I am proud that the vast majority of America’s 50 million students are in school, full-time, learning in-person.

Schools are the heartbeat of communities. Schools are like second families to students and staff. They are thrilled to be together again! In many areas, schools are the only place where students have robust access to STEM laboratories, music and theaters, gymnasiums, social services, and nutritious meals. Especially amid the pandemic, schools also empower parents and caregivers to get back to work and access vital services themselves.

Last week, I visited five states and 11 cities during the Department of Education’s Return to School Road Trip. I saw sheer joy … the joy that students and educators feel about being back together, learning in-person. My team and I saw students reconnecting with friends in band practice, on the basketball court, in the campus dining hall, and in their classrooms.

The Biden Administration has worked hard to help make that a reality. Schools are the most effective means of ensuring students receive the academic, social-emotional, and mental health supports that they need to succeed.

First, the American Rescue Plan, or ARP, has been a historic lifeline. Our education system didn’t serve all students well before the pandemic—particularly students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. With $130 billion, ARP is empowering states, school districts, and educators to safely reopen schools and address education inequities that COVID-19 highlighted and, in many cases, made worse.

But these funds are just the first step. At the Department of Education, we are a service agency. We are supporting districts to implement ARP funds and sharing best practices. We released multiple resources and have convened conversations with education leaders to provide tailored support for schools and districts. We’ve spent a lot of time listening.

Our work is far from over, but we have seen great progress. When the Biden Administration took office, 23 percent of K-8 schools were operating fully remote. By May, just 2 percent were remote.

Currently, about 96% of school districts are fully re-opened for in-person learning. Only a handful are utilizing hybrid or remote models for brief periods to contain the spread of COVID-19.

While we must stay vigilant, I am proud to say that despite an increase in a variant of COVID: America is back to school.

Moving forward, we will 1) promote health and safety in schools, 2) support students’ social and emotional needs, and 3) accelerate students’ academic learning.

On health and safety, we know that mitigation strategies work. The data is proving that.

We cannot risk another year of shuttered classrooms and cancelled sports, performances, and extracurricular activities. We owe it to our students and families to follow the science and implement evidence-based mitigation strategies in our schools—such as masking and physical distancing.

Regarding our students’ social and emotional development, they have suffered enough. Student’s wellness must be factored into the reopening. School districts are determining their students’ needs and hiring social workers and school psychologists and implementing new mental health supports.

Finally, we are assisting school districts in their work to address lost instructional time. Not only as an educator, but as a father, I can tell you that learning in front of a computer is no substitute for in-person learning. Districts are using ARP funds to invest in tutoring, extended learning time, and more.

Despite the adversity we have faced, I am more optimistic about the future of education than ever before.

I have seen teachers face unprecedented challenges with determination, creativity, and love for their students.

I have seen families come together to support the education of their children.

I have seen education leaders make tough decisions knowing that they will not be popular, but they are putting students’ needs first!

I have seen students flourish. Their resilience is our inspiration at the Department.

States are using ARP to Build Back Better. The education system we had before March 2020 is not the goal. We can and must do better!

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.