House panel questions Cardona on ED budget request, priorities

Several GOP members of the panel questioned Cardona about whether the inclusion of the 1619 Project meant ED was endorsing a "controversial" revision of American history.

The House Appropriations Committee Labor, HHS, Education panel held a hearing on Wednesday to hear testimony from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on the Education Department’s FY 2022 budget request.

In the hearing Wednesday, Cardona said "we must do more to level the playing field" for all students.
In the hearing Wednesday, Cardona said “we must do more to level the playing field” for all students.

The White House Office of Management and Budget released the Biden administration’s preliminary FY 2022 budget request blueprint on April 9, which includes $36.5 billion for Title I, Part A programs, a $20 billion increase over the FY 2021 enacted level of $16.5 billion, $15.5 billion for IDEA Part B, a $2.6 billion increase over FY 2021 levels, and a $1 billion fund to increase the number of school counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals in schools.

In her opening statement, House Appropriations Committee Labor, HHS, Education Subcommittee Chairperson Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., lauded the administration’s proposal to increase funding for IDEA as well as investments to postsecondary education, but said “states need to step up and do a better job of equitably funding their high-need districts.”

Ranking Member Tom Cole, R-Okla, expressed concern about the total level of spending requested by the administration, calling it “simply unnecessary.” However, Cole said he was “pleased to see increased support for special education,” and he is willing to work with his colleagues toward a goal of increased funding for the IDEA, as well as higher education initiatives such as Pell Grants, TRIO, and GEAR UP.

Cardona said, “we must do more to level the playing field” for all students. He cited the nearly 40 percent proposed increase in the overall ED FY 2022 budget request as a “meaningful down payment” to address education inequities and said the targeted increase in Title I funding would ensure access to high-quality opportunities, instruction, and additional support for all students to be successful.

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Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., said given a “serious shortage” of mental health professionals in schools, she was pleased to see the $1 billion request for mental health professionals and asked about strategies ED would use to address the shortage. Cardona responded that ED is interested in connecting K-12 education with higher education programs to create “pipelines” for students to become future school mental health professionals who can address the social-emotional needs of students.

Several GOP members of the panel questioned Cardona about whether the inclusion of the 1619 Project as an example in a proposed priority for the American History and Civics Education program published in the April 19 edition of the Federal Register meant ED was endorsing a “controversial” revision of American history, with Cole warning that such an endorsement could put the department’s FY 2022 funding bill in jeopardy.

Cardona replied that the “Education Department does not mandate curriculum, nor does it lean one way or the other. … What it does do is provide parameters for grants.” Cardona said decisions on curriculum should be left to the local level, but diverse viewpoints should be included. “Students should always see themselves in curriculum,” he said.

Cardona also agreed with legislators about the need to return to in-person learning as soon as possible. “The best equity lever we have is in-person learning now. Not the fall, now,” he said. “We know students are suffering due to the trauma they are experiencing. They need to be in the classroom.”

Cardona acknowledged that not all students have the opportunity to attend in-person classes, citing as an example those unable to return to older facilities with poor ventilation, but said ED is willing to problem-solve with districts to bring students back into the classroom. “It’s my expectation that by the fall, all students have in-person learning options 5 days a week.”

The Biden administration has yet to release a more detailed FY 2022 budget request for the Education Department, and funding bills have not been introduced in the House or Senate.

The following chart compares the FY 2020 enacted level, Trump administration FY 2021 request, FY 2021 enacted level, and Biden administration FY 2022 initial request.

Sources: Congressional FY 2020 budget documents, Trump administration FY 2021 budget proposal, and Biden administration FY 2022 budget request.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications

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Charles Hendrix
Charles Hendrix
Charles Hendrix has been writing about federal K-12 education policy, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, since 2006, and has in-depth knowledge of Capitol Hill and the federal legislative process. He is a senior editor with LRP Publications and the author of What Do I Do When® The Answer Book on Title I – Fourth Edition. He lives in South Florida with his son and their trusted chiweenie, Junior.

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