U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona asks for Kansas educators’ input on necessary educational reforms during a Sept. 5 bus tour. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA —Education will combat ignorance, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said, stressing diversity and debt forgiveness on the first leg of a Midwest bus tour meant to promote the Biden administration’s education initiatives.
The inaugural event was held at the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers, where students partner with businesses for learning initiatives. Accompanied by Gov. Laura Kelly, Cardona complimented the center for its inclusive nature and community efforts.
“You’re doing a lot of the elements of the plan already here, which is why we choose to stop here and elevate what you’re doing,” Cardona said. “Students and educators here, just know what you’re experiencing is something that we want to see across the county.”
The weeklong “Back to School Bus Tour 2023: Raise the Bar,” will stop at several Kansas and Missouri schools before heading to destinations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“I was pleased to welcome Secretary Cardona to Kansas to showcase how the Sunflower State continues to prioritize our students, families and teachers,” Kelly said in a news release.
Moving to the historic Brown v. Board of Education Historic Site, Cardona asked Kansas teachers and students to discuss the importance of diversity in the education workforce, and their own experiences. Students at the event said that having more materials, training, special education resources and teachers interested in student wellbeing were priorities for them.
Cardona said he and the Biden administration were committed to diversity in education at all levels.
“When you have segregated communities, you have segregated schools,” Cardona said. “We need to make sure we’re working with mayors, governors, at the federal level with different agencies, to make sure our communities are as diverse as our country is, and that schools shouldn’t be the de facto place we try to segregate.”
Cardona also spoke against the use of public dollars for school voucher programs, which the Republican-dominated state Legislature has pushed for in recent legislative sessions. One hotly debated voucher program would have granted about $5,000 to students attending private schools.
Voucher proponents argued parents needed the funding to give them choices about where to send their children, although Republican leaders acknowledged the voucher wouldn’t be enough support to send a low-income student to private school.
“I’m all in favor for parents having choice,” Cardona said. “What I’m not in favor of is public dollars paying the tuition of wealthy families for private schools because that money is going to come from the local neighborhood school where they’re struggling to pay teachers a competitive salary, or they don’t have reading support and their students are underperforming.”
Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Tiffany Anderson said the city already offers many public school options.
“There’s no need to leave beyond Topeka public schools to find other choices,” Anderson said. “Many public schools have choices right there that have a diverse array of offerings that you really can’t find in many other places, that’s the first thing to acknowledge.”
Student loan debt forgiveness
Cardona’s tour follows uproar over higher education costs. In late June, the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration student debt relief program — a program that would have canceled up to $20,000 in student loan debt for some borrowers.
Since that strikethrough, the Department of Education has looked at new ways of reducing student loan debt, most recently announcing the cancellation of $72 million in federal student loan debt for borrowers who attended a California for-profit university.
The Department of Education also announced in July that more than 800,000 federal student loan borrowers will have their remaining debts wiped out.
Cardona touched upon the subject during his Topeka stop. Cardona said teachers and other community-based workers shouldn’t have to worry about taking on debt.
“You can’t go into a profession where you’re serving the community, trying to make the community better, and be saddled with debt for the next twenty years,” he said. “… We’re committed to giving you the tools to make sure you have a good pathway into the profession and that you’re not paying debt for the rest of your life.”
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