And newly created Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will kick off his tenure on Wednesday with a visit to elementary schools that have successfully reopened, during a high-profile event with First Lady Jill Biden.
The blitz is part of an intensified administration-wide campaign to reopen schools, as White House Biden rushes to a self-imposed 100-day deadline to send children back to class.
For weeks, the Biden administration has said two things need to happen for the reopening of schools to intensify: confirmation from its education secretary and adoption of a massive Covid-19 bailout. .
But with the White House poised to cross those two hurdles, it has become clear that it needs to do more to get kids back to class, en masse.
Instead, Cardona, whom Vice President Kamala Harris sworn in on Tuesday night as Biden’s education secretary, is inheriting a boiling cauldron of political conflict. Before Tuesday’s announcements, some unions were calling for the vaccination of teachers. But even with Biden kissing her like As a priority, it could take teachers weeks to develop full immunity, depending on the type of vaccination used.
Beyond that, the administration is still trying to overcome confusing messages regarding its reopening goals. And there are complicated local disputes around the reopenings that are beyond the control of the White House.
All of this amounts to a precarious position for the Biden administration as it sprints to meet the President’s 100-day goal – a signing pledge that will be at the heart of Biden’s and Democrats’ political message in 2022.
Cardona has no formal power to reopen schools across the country in her new role. But now that it is installed, administration officials plan to relax the soft powers of the federal government.
The Education Department plans to convene a national summit on reopening schools with students, teachers, principals and other organizations this month, Cardona wrote in a USA Today editorial on Tuesday. The event will aim to develop ways to make the reopening “as transparent as possible,” he wrote.
In addition, the Biden administration is evaluating the appointment of a school reopening czar to serve as a resource person on the issue, according to an administration official. The role would be hosted at the Department of Education.
Biden said on Tuesday he had provided schools with a “road map” to reopen. And he’s urging Congress to shell out $ 130 billion to help schools pay for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s virus mitigation strategies as part of its Covid-19 relief program that has been cleared in the House and who will be in the Senate this week.
The new federal directive allowing states to vaccinate teachers, Biden said, was another tool to “help speed up the safe reopening of schools.”
“Let’s treat in-person learning like the essential service that it is,” Biden said. “And that means getting the essential workers providing this service – educators, school staff, child care staff – to get them immunized immediately.”
Biden said on Tuesday he was operating a federal pharmacy program to help distribute vaccines to educators throughout March, a major milestone given that about 20 states have yet to prioritize teachers to vaccinations. The program, the president said, would prioritize educators, staff and K-12 educators, who could make appointments at local pharmacies.
At the same time, Cardona will oversee a massive data collection effort that began several weeks ago to track school closings and reopens across the country, information the Trump administration has refused to collect.
The ministry also plans to release another set of federal guidelines to schools on how to address the social and emotional toll the pandemic has caused to children and make up for learning lost during the shutdown through strategies such as school classes. ‘summer.
Beyond that, officials in the Biden administration are looking for ways to use the White House chair of intimidation to highlight examples of schools reopening safely.
Anne Hyslop, a former Education Department official under the Obama administration who is now deputy director of policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education, said that because school decisions are so Located across the country, Cardona can play an important role in influencing the national debate and ensuring that states and districts have comprehensive data on closures.
“He is a former head of state, and I think he will use this convening power in a way that the previous administration did not,” Hyslop said, referring to the efforts of the Trump administration to force schools to reopen by threatening federal funding. “Here, the Department of Education has an important role to play in shedding light on which states are doing good work.”
Cardona and Jill Biden plan to do exactly this Wednesday with their visit to Pennsylvania public schools and her hometown of Meriden, Connecticut. It’s a move, White House officials say, meant to make it clear that the administration is sensitive to the concerns of people on the ground. . As the state’s education commissioner, Cardona pushed Connecticut schools to reopen during the pandemic without alienating the state’s teacher unions, which backed his confirmation.
He will now have to strike the same balance on the national stage, amid an increasingly acrimonious debate about how and when schools should be open to in-person teaching.
Even if the $ 1.9 trillion relief package passes, it could take weeks for state officials to deploy the money they receive to schools, leaving them little time in the spring. And while districts have welcomed federal guidance to move forward with in-person learning, it is still up to states and individual school districts to make the final calls on how to do it or on whether or not. to do.
Already, Republicans are trying to find ways to blame the school closings on Democrats. Former President Donald Trump on Sunday berated Democrats specifically on schools, to loud applause from conservative attendees.
The delays, however, are not entirely under the control of the Biden administration. Trump’s White House has prevented a smooth transition. The Jan.6 assault on Capitol Hill caused further disruption, leading to the early resignation of then Education Secretary Betsy Devos.
This left Biden’s transition team attempting to remove some of the biggest obstacles to reopening the school on their own. Members of Biden’s transition team and later White House were in frequent talks with New York City public schools as they sought to shape their plan to reopen.
“They were very interested in what we were doing on ventilation and airflow,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Teachers’ Federation. Mulgrew said he said key elements of reopening schools also included aggressive testing and contact tracing. “There was a lot of work to try to put together a plan, a plan that they could recommend through the CDC that would work to open schools safely.”
While these discussions helped shape the national health guidelines, which stipulated that educators did not need to be vaccinated to return to school safely, it soon became clear that these guidelines principals alone were not enough to push schools to reopen. Infection rates, parental concerns and disputes with local unions were among the factors keeping the doors closed.
“I’m happy that the White House is actually saying that schools should reopen within the first 100 days, which every state in the country should have prioritized months and months ago,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Many of them have given priority to bars, restaurants and gymnasiums over schools.”