Cardona is insisting on billions of dollars more for schools. But is federal oversight going to be a part of it?

The Education Secretary Miguel Cardona thinks harnessing the positive energy ! ! !


The principal Christy Walters has big plans for her elementary school in the suburbs. She is looking to improve the lessons she learned from last year , including better methods to keep in touch with families to fulfill requirements, efficient methods for attracting and keeping the diverse staff, as well as innovative ideas for how to structure lessons to inspire students.

"I'm always excited for innovation," she added. "I'm not exhausted for it. It's an energy booster."

Witch Hazel Elementary, where Walters is in charge since the beginning of 2018 and has a student poor rate of 95 percent as well as an enthusiastic staff. Despite the enormous challenges posed by the epidemic, students here are satisfied with how they've managed to get through the year.

"It needs to be done, so we just do it," said Alejandra Castrejon, a school secretary who assisted families from the Spanish language figure out how to access Wi-Fi hotspots and tablets provided from the school district. "Everybody's just been ready and willing to help."

The spirit of the group even was admired by the nation's top education official.

"I loved that school," said Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education after a couple of weeks after a visit in Witch Hazel to check out its summer program that was bilingual. "People wanted to attend from the children to the teachers. I felt that kids were loved here. I felt that the staff was at ease there."

Hazel Elementary in Hillsboro, Oregon. The staff members are proud of the way they had worked together to get through the many obstacles of the school's future.

A sign announcing their delight to be able to see their students, despite masks, represented the teachers at Witch Hazel Elementary School in Hillsboro, Ore. Staff members were proud of the way they had collaborated to overcome the numerous difficulties of the school's 2020-21 year.Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report

He believes this type of optimism could be seen in schools across the United States even as exhausted teachers are preparing for the nineteenth month of learning that is a pandemic. The bet is that the energy he has is able to harness and apply it -- together with an unprecedented amount of federal money to fix the problems with schools in public schooling across the U.S.

Cardona is calling on Congress to pass a bill of $103 billion of new power to budget the discretion of the Department of Education in the next fiscal year. This is a 41 percent increase over the current budget. (That's on top of the unrestricted $122 billion in funding for pandemic relief for K-12 schools , which Congress passed in the month of March, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.)

"We're standing strong" with teachers, Cardona said, "and are determined to be stronger more than we have ever been. Students have been waiting for years. It's time to deliver."

If it's accepted should it be approved, the federal school funds that he's recommending could become an ongoing stream that's almost impossible to reverse which would mean a major shift in the federal government's control over local schools. It's not everyone's idea of a welcome change.

More money But at what cost?

In general, the federal government has contributed just eight percent of funding schools receive annually from state, local and federal government. This proposal will boost the funds available to public preschool and mental health counselors, special education and teacher education, in addition to other priorities for educators.

"We're talking about extraordinary increases," said Rick Hess, the director of studies on education policy for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. "I'm an observer who has very little confidence that new dollars have historically been spent wisely or well."

Hess is not convinced that federal school funds are spending well at the moment and more funding would only make the issue worse.

"Most of these dollars are budgeted and allocated in a way which I generally don't believe works in the interest of kids," said the author. stated.

Conor Williams, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a left-leaning think-tank, believes sending more federal money to what he considers an underfunded system that is constantly in crisis is a sensible option even if some of the funds are used in unwise ways.

"The kinds of money we're talking about are so high that like, yes, it's a good thing," he declared. "Thank God we're doing it."

Through the introduction of the nation's schools into thousands of houses, the epidemic provided the American public an insight into the system's shortcomings that education is ineffective and unjust. U.S. is not equitable inadequately funded and often ineffective.

Yet, it's equally true that a lot of dedicated teachers, principals and other school personnel have gone to great measures to assist students struggling academically and emotionally.

Photograph: Nikki Musser, an education assistant, supervises the students in the first grade class in Witch Hazel Elementary remotely. The school was operating using a hybrid program the last time. "Everyone here is just trying to do the best they can," she added.

Nikki Musser, an education assistant, supervises the students in the first grade class on Witch Hazel Elementary School via remote. The school was operating with a hybrid calendar the last time. "Everyone here is just trying to do the best they can," she said.Lillian Mongeau / The Hechinger Report

It's been the case to the students at Witch Hazel, in the sprawling Portland suburb of Hillsboro. It's a bilingual school which keeps its students at a level that is comparable to their peers with low incomes across the country. Also, Witch Hazel is not a completely unique situation. While many schools catering to students with low incomes suffer from poor academic results however, some schools serve their students quite effectively.

Walker stated that the quality of her school's community that can't be assessed with a multiple-choice exam and is the reason it's survived the illness to date. To make people feel welcome and accepted the money alone isn't enough. Teamwork is the key she added.

"If we all want to do it together in concert, you know, then there's nothing else really we need other than the people in the building, believing that that's what we need," she said.

Of course, these people require a salary. As positive as they seem to be, some employees have expressed their wish that they had fewer classes, which is echoed by teachers across the district, according the district's chief financial director, Michelle Morrison. However, solving these problems is costly, Morrison said.

"Reducing class size by one across the district is $2.7 million," she stated of her district that has 20,000 students.

Schools are facing a teacher substitute shortage. The districts are coming up with innovative ways to address the issue.

The results of decades of research have shown that decreasing the size of classes has little impact on students' academic performance. Smaller classes are also more enjoyable to run and also be in. With more funds available, local schools could invest in reducing class sizes or employ any other method that fits into the broad categories set out as a federal policy in the Every Student Succeeds Act, that governs how federal dollars can be used on K-12 education.

Who decides where the money will be spent?

Cardona's belief that local officials will make wise decisions about the best way to spend their money likely stems from his experiences as a teacher. He is among only three former teachers who have held the post of cabinet member for education since it was first established in 1979. He describes his organization to be "the connective tissue" between schools, and ensuring that great ideas get out quickly and broadly.

To achieve that federal officials have to inquire with local governments how they will spend the new school funds from the federal government According to Kalilah Harris, a former member from the Obama administration and managing director of K-12 Education Policy in the Center for American Progress, which is a think tank for liberals.

"They have the best information about what will work for their community," Harris spoke of parents, teachers and other members of the community.

She also hopes that the feds will be able to help district officials to think big.

"Because so many districts were underresourced, people don't even have ideas about what to use the money for that would be innovative and reimagine public education to work for their children," she explained. "You see some folks saying, 'Oh, now we can have more of what we had before.' But what we had before was not working for children either."

What's not working well for children in Hillsboro as stated by assistant superintendent Travis Reiman, is the stop-and-start funds they've received for decades from the government, both at the state and federal levels.

Images: Halima Madey, now 12 years old, is working at her laptop as part of an online class held at Witch Hazel Elementary in June 2021. schools such as Witch Hazel, which has many students with low incomes, may be able to get more funding through the government should the Biden Ad

Halima Madey, now 12 she works on her computer in an online class held for students at Witch Hazel Elementary School in June. School such as Witch Hazel, which has many students of low-income, may receive more funding by the Federal government if Biden administration's budget proposal to the Education Department is approved.Lillian Mongeau / The Hechinger Report

"Sustainable and adequate funding for K-12 is going to be key in the next decade and in the next 20 years," Reiman declared. Reiman believes that a long-term commitment to state funds will be more effective over the long term as opposed to the temporary relief the feds have provided up to now that can't go to ongoing expenses, like wages.

Morrison CFO of the district is not convinced that the solution is the addition of government school aid. She believes that the federal government should be able to cover their own requirements and that the state must take actions to ensure that the funding is equitable between districts that are wealthy as well as those with less. In addition, she believes that local governments should be responsible for funding local schools.

The federal government is more adept in protecting the rights of civil citizens than local or state governments, according to The Century Foundation's Williams. Also, the notion of local school boards being "bastions of democracy" is not true, he added.

"No, they're not!" he declared. "If you think that, you've never been to one."

Though it's not widespread view among the people of Washington, Williams said he believes it could be more effective for the federal government to simply controlled the national schools.

"It would be more in line with the rest of the developed world, and, I suspect, better for overall resource and outcome equity to have the feds, largely speaking, in control of American public education," he added.