U.S. Education Secretary Cardona pushes to tackle racial disparities in K-12 schools, colleges

Florida Phoenix | By Danielle J. Brown | April 14, 2022

The U.S. Department of Education announced an “action plan” Thursday to reduce racial disparity in K-12 schools, including ways to improve academic achievement and boost funding for children of color who are behind compared to their peers.

The plan’s effort also includes the nation’s higher education system, according to a USDE press release. 

 Miguel Cardona, U.S. Education Secretary. March 1, 2021. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images).

“We need to keep the focus on transforming our education system so it truly expands opportunity for all students, no matter their race, background, zip code, age, or family’s income,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a written statement.

“Together, we must take bold action to ensure our nation’s schools are defined not by disparities, but by equity and excellence, especially as we recover from the pandemic and reemerge stronger than before,” he continued.

The COVID pandemic exacerbated many of the issues, and the federal education agency plans to address education inequities through investments in colleges that help prepare minority students, among other measures. Those institutions  would include historically Black colleges and universities and tribal-controlled colleges. The efforts also would include increased funding for Pell Grants for low-income students.

The plan also calls to simplify the application process for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for students to take out federal aid in order to afford higher education. The changes would include eliminating unnecessary questions and making it easier to navigate financial information, among other measures.

The department also says that it will be implementing a legislative change that will “restore access to Pell Grants for students who are currently incarcerated.” That part of the plan would start in July 2023.

“Postsecondary programs in prison have been shown to significantly improve the long-term recidivism and employment outcomes of formerly incarcerated students, a population that is disproportionately made up of individuals of color and low-income adults,” the action plan says.

On the K-12 front, the USDE says it will continue to ensure that billions in federal COVID relief funds are used by state and local education departments to help address learning loss from the pandemic. Learning loss is when children fall behind academically.

The action plan also would work to improve achievement gaps often between white students and black and Hispanic students.

The department also is urging state education officials to utilize billions provided in COVID relief dollars to address declines in student proficiency, among other issues.

The action plan also calls for a need to collect and analyze data through the agency’s Office for Civil Rights.

The action plan is a response to an executive order from President Joe Biden in January.

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