3 ways education shined in Biden’s State of the Union address

President Joe Biden made it clear in his State of the Union address Thursday that K12 education is on his radar. Here's what we learned.

President Joe Biden made it clear in his State of the Union address Thursday that K12 education is on his radar. More specially, his administration is addressing student success and safety—and teacher morale—with growing levels of urgency.

Pre-K and literacy

“To remain the strongest economy in the world we need the best education system in the world,” he said as he transitioned into some commentary about his goal to expand access to pre-K schooling for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“Studies show that children who go to pre-school are nearly 50% more likely to finish high school and go on to earn a 2- or 4-year degree no matter their background,” he declared.

Additionally, he said he aims to increase tutoring and summer learning time to ensure that every child knows how to read by third grade.

These promises come at a time when reading and math scores are still on the rebound as a result of the pandemic. For instance, reading and math scores plummeted among 13-year-olds during the 2019-20 academic year, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress released late last year. Average reading scores for this student group dropped four points, the lowest rates have been since 2004.

Postsecondary pathways

Preparing graduates for a life of success after high school also came up during the president’s speech, regardless of whether one chooses to pursue a college degree.

“I’m also connecting businesses and high schools so students get hands-on experience and a path to a good-paying job whether or not they go to college,” he said. “And I want to make college more affordable.”

He promised to continue increasing Pell Grants for working- and middle-class families and invest in HBCUs and Hispanic and minority-serving colleges and universities.

As of September of last year, the Biden administration has invested more than $7 billion in HBCUs, according to a news release, including:

  • $3.6 billion for HBCUs through the American Rescue Plan and other pandemic relief funds.
  • $1.6 billion in capital finance debt relief for 45 public and private institutions.
  • $1.7 billion in grant funding to expand academic capacity and offer support for low-income students.

“Such relief is good for the economy because folks are now able to buy a home, start a business, even start a family,” he said.

Pay raises for teachers and book bans

“While we’re at it, I want to give public school teachers a raise,” he exclaimed. For years, now, this has been a point of increasing consternation among educators as many continue to leave in droves for higher-paying careers, including Walmart.

Though this was his only comment, there are several proposals still pending in Congress that would establish $60,000 as the minimum salary for teachers.

He also called out those who set out to deny “diversity across American life.”

“Banning books. It’s wrong! Instead of erasing history, let’s make history,” he argued.

School shootings

At a time when school shootings continue to outpace previous years, according to data from the “K-12 School Shooting Database,” President Biden said he wants to see an end to the violence.

“With us tonight is Jasmine, whose 9-year-old sister Jackie was murdered with 21 classmates and teachers at her elementary school in Uvalde, Texas,” he said. “Soon after it happened, Jill and I went to Uvalde and spent hours with the families. We heard their message, and so should everyone in this chamber do something.”

Since then, the administration has established the first-ever Office of Gun Violence Prevention, led by Vice President Kamala Harris, which advocates for stricter gun safety laws, including:

  • Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  • Requiring safe storage of firearms.
  • Requiring background checks for all gun sales.
  • Eliminating gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.
  • Putting more police officers on the streets and investing in gun violence prevention and intervention.

More from DA: What’s new in your governor’s priorities for K12 education?

Biden said none of these initiatives violate the Second Amendment or “vilified responsible gun owners.”

“I say we must stop it,” he said regarding the levels of violence playing out in America’s schools. “I’m proud we beat the NRA when I signed the most significant gun safety law in nearly 30 years. Now we must beat the NRA again.”

The U.S. Department of Education also issued a Dear Colleague letter in January for K12 principals to raise awareness about safe firearm storage in hopes that the message would be passed along to their school communities.

“As school principals and district administrators, you have credibility in your community and trust in your schools and districts that uniquely position you to help save lives,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote in the letter.

Read the full transcript of President Biden’s State of the Union address here.
Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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