education, teachers

U.S. Secretary Of Education Miguel Cardona Addresses Teacher Shortage And Student Loan Relief Efforts

Diversifying the profession is also a priority for Cardona and the Biden-Harris administration, he noted.

The nation’s teacher shortage “is a symptom of a teacher respect issue in this country,” U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona told BLACK ENTERPRISE, referring to low pay.

Speaking at the College of Charleston, In South Carolina, on Feb. 1 while attending a Power Up summit hosted by the White House Initiative for Black Americans, Cardona said low teacher salaries demonstrate a lack of respect for educators, noting that some of them have side gigs such as driving for ride-sharing apps or taking on food service roles to round out their income.

“South Carolina is not immune. When the starting salary for teachers is about $38,000 or $39,000, you’re basically telling teachers, ‘I need you to get another job to make ends meet,’” Cardona said. “We need to show respect to our teachers so we can keep our teachers.”

According to data from the federal education department, 730,000 local public education jobs were lost during the pandemic. States continue to be supported via $122 billion in American Rescue Plan and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds “to eliminate educator shortages,” according to the Department of Education’s website.

“The teacher shortage and teacher respect issue go hand in hand,” Cardona told BE. “We’re out there pushing—not only for funding in education from the federal level, but we’re pushing states to do more. Step it up. Our kids deserve it.”

Diversifying the profession is also a priority for Cardona and the Biden-Harris administration, he noted.

“Quite frankly, the number of diverse teachers compared to the number of diverse students is less than a quarter. We have to do better,” said Cardona.

According to an Education Department “Raise the Bar” policy brief, the federal government is working with minority-serving institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), to eliminate educator shortages as well as diversify classrooms and schools. Cardona also said the administration has implemented new grants over the last three years “to make sure we’re recruiting Black and Brown teachers.”

“It’s been going great,” he said of the grant initiative. “We’ve put more money into it. Every year we put a little bit more into it. We have to scrap for those dollars, but we recognize that when Black and brown children have teachers of color, they see themselves. They engage better. They perform better. All students do, not just Black and brown students.”

What’s next for Black student loan borrowers?

While in Charleston, Secretary Cardona also addressed the administration’s efforts to reduce or eliminate student loans for borrowers, including for Black borrowers, who are the hardest hit.

“Black borrowers end up owing more money on the loan they took 12 years later, because of the interest accrual,” Cardona said. “We changed that. We introduced the SAVE plan, which now caps interest. Think about what that means for first-gen kids like me. You won’t have the interest compounding like it has been in the past.”

Cardona said the administration has provided “over $50 billion in debt relief to public servants,” which are roles often occupied by people of color, “which is another way Black borrowers get support.”

He expressed frustration that the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which “was intentional about addressing the racial wealth gap in this country. Students who are eligible for PELL would have gotten $20,000 debt relief. And we know Black borrowers are more likely to be PELL receipts.”

Secretary Cardona pointed out, “Forty-two percent of Black borrowers would have had their total debt erased if that planned passed, “but we’re still fighting for student debt relief. This president gets it; that it affects Black and brown communities much more and we’re intentional about saying ‘we need to do better.’”

The Power Up series will make stops in other cities over the spring and summer, including Denver and Philadelphia, according to Alexis K. Holmes, executive director of the White House Initiative on Black Americans, as “an opportunity for us to go directly into the Black community to provide inspiration, information and innovation” by sharing federal resource access information with local communities.

RELATED CONTENT: Over 200 Charlotte Teachers Must Reimburse $1,250 Each For School District ‘Mistake’