Remarks by Secretary DeVos at the White House Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing
Remarks by Secretary DeVos at the White House Coronavirus Task Force Press Briefing
Let me start by saying thank you, Mr. President, for your clear-eyed leadership during these challenging times for our country and for the world. The bold actions you have taken are making a significant difference. That’s certainly true for America’s students and teachers.
Most of them are experiencing unprecedented disruptions in learning and in their lives.
I want each of them to know that President Trump and his Administration are taking decisive action to keep them safe and healthy so they can continue learning.
We must rise to the challenge of educating all children from all walks of life who are all of a sudden in many, many different learning environments. They are counting on all of us to find solutions.
I’m pleased to be here today for the announcement of another terrific solution initiated under the President’s leadership. Secretary Perdue is going to share details of a public-private partnership—this one focused on making sure students impacted by school closures still have access to the school meals they rely on. Thank you, Secretary Perdue for all that you do for America’s students.
Before the Secretary provides additional details on that important initiative, I want to take a moment to talk about the Department of Education’s work on behalf of students, parents, and teachers during this National Emergency.
My team and I are in contact daily with governors, state school chiefs, college presidents, superintendents, and local education leaders. We are quickly responding to their needs so they can do the next right thing for their students.
Most governors have decided to close some or all schools in their states for a period of time. As a result, students may not be able to take federally mandated standardized tests this spring. And the President took action to make sure they don’t have to.
We made the process to delay these tests for a year fast and painless. Forty-eight states and territories have already requested the delay—or waiver. We are approving the requests within 24 hours.
We also released additional information making clear the expectation that education will continue for all students. The transition to distance and online learning needs to happen quickly, and it needs to include meaningful instruction and supports for children with disabilities. Learning should not stop or be denied because schools fear federal regulators or fear doing something different.
Distance learning is happening. States like New Hampshire and Florida have implemented phased and tiered approaches to meet the needs of students in their states. Other schools and states are implementing creative approaches and working through practical realities to help students continue learning.
In remote Colorado mountain towns without internet connectivity, teachers are putting weekly learning packets together and they’re holding office hours by phone to help their students when they’re stuck.
South Carolina is deploying 3,000 buses with mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to help kids in remote areas access learning that way.
This National Emergency gives all of us an opportunity to come together to educate all students out of principle. It’s simply not an acceptable option to educate none of them out of fear. We stand ready to assist you and your students.
We are compiling all of the tools we have produced, along with the great resources states are offering to help keep learning going. There are already many existing online learning platforms and many states were already offering a robust menu of courses virtually. We will be adding that information to our website, ed.gov/coronavirus, on an ongoing basis.
We are using every tool possible to extend flexibility to states and communities. This includes funding flexibility. Where we don’t have the latitude, we are working with Congress on solutions.
One area is providing direct financial support to students, families, and teachers. We will propose Congress provide microgrants to help students continue to learn. These would be focused toward the most disadvantaged students in states or communities where their school system has simply shut down. I’ve always believed education funding should be tied to students, not systems, and that necessity has never been more evident.
We will also support microgrants to teachers, to help them pivot to supporting all of their students in a different environment than they’ve been used to. We know they are dealing with an unprecedented situation. It’s been truly inspiring to hear story after story of teachers rising to the occasion and meeting the unique needs of their students.
Ultimately, we know everyone is grappling with the challenge of keeping students safe and healthy while also building capacity for remote learning. It’s an important moment to realize that learning can—and does—happen anywhere and everywhere.
I think of the Texas dad who started a daily webinar, interviewing friends and acquaintances in wildly different careers and helping students understand what it takes to work in that chosen career. Or the history teacher in Virginia who connects with his students through a livestream every morning. I think of the art teacher in Tennessee who broadcasts lessons over social media or Second Lady Karen Pence who prepares packages of art materials and projects for her students to pick up with their school lunches.
Or the principal in Alabama who goes online daily and gives morning announcements, leads the pledge of allegiance and a moment of silence. And I think of the many schools that have distributed laptops and tablets to students who don’t have them so they can continue learning over videoconference. And the ones that just don’t have that option currently, like the remote Colorado towns.
Joy Hofmeister, the school chief in Oklahoma, may have put this best. She told me, “School isn’t a building. It’s students, teachers, and families working together to advance learning.” She’s right, and that’s our shared mission.
Let me also touch briefly on how we’re supporting students pursuing higher education.
At the start of this outbreak, we immediately gave institutions of higher education regulatory flexibility so learning could go online—and it did. In many cases, it was a seamless transition and learning continues. And we are continuing to cut federal bureaucracy and let schools rise to meet this challenge.
We have vastly improved distance learning policies which we are working quickly to enact for traditional higher ed. Shorter term programs and apprenticeships also need to grow and thrive. As you’ve so effectively championed, Mr. President, workers need these options as they look to come back stronger than ever from these momentary setbacks.
Mr. President, you have promised to defeat this invisible enemy and to keep our economy strong. You took immediate action and provided student loan relief to tens of millions of borrowers. We set all federally held student loans to zero percent interest rates and deferred payments for 60 days. Now with the CARES Act, that you signed into law, Mr. President, those actions will extend to 6 months.
Those who are, or become, delinquent on their payments as a result of the National Emergency will receive an automatic suspension of payments, without having to request it. Additionally, we’ve stopped federal wage garnishments altogether for students and families in default. And I have asked private collection agencies that contract with the Department to stop all collections correspondence including phone calls, letters, and emails.
We hope these actions will help alleviate the financial burden and anxiety students and their families are feeling during these tough times.
These are tough times, but “We the People” are tougher.
So, in closing, let me offer just a few words of encouragement.
To our students, your educations can—and should—continue. Learning can happen anywhere, and we will help make sure it does. We believe in you!
To our teachers, we will support you and help you. You are doing great work. Keep it up!
And to every parent and family, we know these are challenging times. But it’s in the face of great challenges that Americans have always risen to the occasion and embraced greatness. And I know we’ll do that once again.
Thank you again, Mr. President, and Mr. Vice President, for your leadership on behalf of America’s students—and on behalf of all of us.