CBS4's Jim DeFede went one-on-one with the education secretary.
- Now, to the president's goals on education. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke with CBS 4's Jim DeFede to promote President Biden's plan to expand early childhood education, build new schools, and making the first two years of community college free.
- But before they turn to those topics, the Education Secretary was asked about the Centner Academy, the Miami private school making headlines across the country.
MIGUEL CARDONA: I don't think we should be threatening teachers at all. And really, we need to follow the science and make sure that we're listening to the health experts. They know what they're doing. And I'm thankful as a father and as an educator to have been able to follow their advice to make sure that in the home state where I lived-- where I lived during the pandemic, our schools were able to open safely. We followed the guidance. We were able to do that.
JIM DEFEDE: Let's broaden it out now. Let's talk about opening schools safely across the country. What do you envision this fall is going to look like in classrooms across the country?
MIGUEL CARDONA: You know, I anticipate that students are going to be coming in. I expect all schools to be offering in-person learning options by the fall. Quite frankly, I want them now in the spring. We shouldn't be waiting for the fall. So I want them now. I expect them in the fall.
But the learning shouldn't be what it was in March 2020. It should be better. So it could be that it includes some form of blended learning. I'd like to see more externships where students are learning by doing. I also want to make sure that our schools are prepared to meet the needs of our students from a social emotional perspective and provide more mental health supports.
We've all experienced this pandemic together. We've all experienced this trauma together. Our schools have to be prepared to do that. And with the American Rescue Plan, there are funds there to make sure that the schools are ready to greet students with whatever needs they have.
JIM DEFEDE: You talked about wanting to get kids back in school now if at all possible. And I was talking to some educators. And they were talking to me about their concern even in a normal year pre-pandemic. You know, there's that drop off during the summer in which you sort of seeing kids sort of not retaining the information they got.
And there's a real concern that there's going to be an increased gap among students for this past year. Online learning was necessary. But it is not the best form of teaching kids. What can be done to sort of make up that educational gap that is almost naturally going to be a byproduct of the pandemic?
MIGUEL CARDONA: Great question, Jim. It's absolutely right. Many students have not only just because they're not in school, but they're dealing with a lot of trauma at home, right? So they might be experiencing loss in their family. They might be experiencing loss of jobs.
All those things impact their ability to learn even online. So we have to make sure that our schools are ready to receive these students in a warm, welcoming environment with the social support they need but also really targeted intervention and support for students-- after school programs, good summer learning experiences.
We have a summer learning collaborative that we really launched and are working with our partners to make sure that we're providing ideas and best practices around summer learning experiences for students. It could be that in the fall, we provide additional opportunities for small group instruction for students.
Quite frankly, Jim, I expect those students that were hit the hardest by the pandemic to have smaller class sizes. The American Rescue Plan provides funds for that to be possible. So I want bold leadership. I want bold action. I want to make sure that we're doing a better job than we did even prior to the pandemic addressing inequities in education.
JIM DEFEDE: So let's talk about what's in the-- what's in the American Rescue Plan and also in some of the proposals that the administration is putting forth-- roughly $4 trillion in spending on everything from roads and bridges to a host of other things. What is in there as it relates to education that you want to see enacted?
MIGUEL CARDONA: It's transformational. Hey, number one, it values education in a way that educators love, right? It recognizes the important role that education has in our country's growth and development. As the president stated in his comments last week or the week before, the other countries aren't waiting for us.
So we have to invest. Early childhood education is critically important to give students that opportunity to take honors classes when they get into high school. And we know that two years of community college can increase earning potential by 21%.
That's good for the economy. We also know that for those students that really rely heavily on Pell to pay for school, an additional 1,400 could make the difference between going to college or not going to college. Not only does it do that, it provides better professional learning opportunities for educators so that they can meet the needs of our learners, which as you know because of the pandemic has really changed a lot this past year.
JIM DEFEDE: You're talking about issues that would help those who are in school currently. I know an issue that has always been raised is one of taking care of student debt for those who have graduated. The issue of student debt is a very-- it's a controversial matter. Where do you come down? Do you believe that the federal government should be stepping in and helping lowering student debt, maybe picking up some of it if not all of it?
MIGUEL CARDONA: I know the president proposed a $10,000 benefit or benefit or debt relief for students. And he's asking Congress to support that. I recognize that some of the debt that these students are in are slowing their ability to buy a home or start a family. So I recognize the important role that is.
That's why at the agency, we're going to make it a priority to make sure that we're providing good borrower defense, that we have public service loan forgiveness policies that allow students who go into public service some loan forgiveness. I think we denied 98% of the requests that came in for that.
We have a lot of work to do in-house to make sure we're doing everything to stop the bleeding so that we're not in a situation where students owe so much and can't afford school. So this is going to be part of the priorities that we have here at the agency. And I look forward to getting to work to do that.