‘We need help,’ Cardona tells Congress in wake of Uvalde school shooting

About the teacher shortage, Cardona said the nation is "very close to a crisis."

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, zeroing in on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, warned against normalizing or becoming numb to these incidents during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing this week. Cardona also fielded questions about the U.S. Department of Education’s performance during the last year and its near-term priorities.

“We need help, and we need help now,” Cardona said, citing a litany of changes made in the wake of previous shootings but said more should be done. “Americans are looking to us to solve problems.”

House Education and Labor Committee Chairperson Bobby Scott, D-Va., noted that there have been 27 school shootings this year, and called for more action. However, GOP members of the committee urged restraint. “We should be thoughtful about how we handle and discuss school safety and mental health issues,” said House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. “Federal changes should not be made in haste.”

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During the hearing, Cardona addressed questions from legislators about ED’s FY 2023 budget request, including increasing the Title I, Part A allocation to $36.5 billion, a $19 billion increase over FY 2022 enacted levels. “Today’s hearing is about the needs of our students and how we can meet them if we work together,” Cardona said, adding that Title I is the “best tool” to address inequity.

Cardona also discussed the mental health needs of students and urged $1 billion to invest in staff and resources to meet those needs. “Our children are hurting,” he said.

In response to a question from Rep. RaÁºl Grijalva, D-Ariz., about the teacher shortage, Cardona said the nation is “very close to a crisis.” He urged investments in programs that provide through-lines from high school to college and back to the classroom, as well as grow-your-own programs. ED’s budget request includes $350 million to increase the number of qualified teachers, he said.

Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, asked about ED’s plan for reengaging disconnected students following the increased number of students missing from school rolls over the past two years. Cardona responded that short-term plans include the use of ARP funds by school districts to reengage families, citing a district in Nevada that created a team of parent liaisons that went into the community to reengage with families, who were facing housing and food insecurity. Over the long term, Cardona said, ED is seeking additional funding for Full-Service Community Schools in the budget request.

Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., discussed ED’s recent announcement that it was taking comments on a potential revamp of Section 504 and asked how ED will engage families as part of its decision-making process. Cardona responded that ED has an “opportunity to engage families of different backgrounds” and to hear from people who had good experiences as well as those for whom the 504 process didn’t work. He said ED will cast a “wide net” in gathering input.

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Several Republican members of the committee asked about the administration’s support for charter schools. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., expressed his concern that the Charter Schools program would receive level funding from FY 2022 to FY 2023 in the administration’s budget request, noting that overall funding for ED programs would increase by 40 percent under the administration’s budget. Cardona said the administration continues to support charter schools, and the proposed increases in other programs would also benefit charter schools as well.

Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y., discussed ED’s proposed priorities for the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools program, authorized under ESEA Title IV, Part C, noting that ESEA Section 4307 requires ED to consult with charter school administrators, teachers, and others in the development of any regulations that affect charter schools. Jacobs inquired about ED’s compliance with the requirement. in response, Cardona said the administration gathered feedback and comments during an open comment period that led to the proposed rules. Cardona also said the proposed priorities are the subject of “misinformation,” and the rule is not yet final.

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

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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