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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a Tuesday hearing on Capitol Hill that he thinks those calling for arming teachers in schools are showing a lack of respect for the profession, as lawmakers search for solutions after recent mass shootings.
In a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Cardona also said he opposes school choice and said “blended learning” doesn’t replace in-person learning but could have a role in education going forward.
“Our educators over the last two years have bent over backward for our students. To think that arming our teachers and now having them be responsible for discharging a firearm in our schools, it’s just ludicrous to think about,” Cardona said in response to a question from Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
“I think it’s a further reflection of the lack of respect that this profession has, and I would stand against that,” Cardona added.
The comments come after 19 children and two adults were killed in a shooting last month at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school. That attack was just one of several mass shootings recently, including one apparently racially motivated attack on a Buffalo supermarket shortly before the Texas shooting, and a mass shooting in Philadelphia over the weekend.
Some Republicans who say they oppose more restrictions on guns are calling for school security enhancements instead. But many Democrats, including Cardona, appear to dismiss those proposals.
Cardona and multiple senators also acknowledged the Uvalde shooting Friday. The education secretary took time out of his opening remarks at the hearing to read off the names of the children and teachers who died in Uvalde.
“We must say their names as we remember the responsibility that we have as Americans looking to solve difficult problems,” Cardona said.
The hearing Tuesday touched on much more than gun violence and school safety, as Cardona made the case for why Congress should honor his department’s budget request. Cardona also discussed student loans, Pell Grants, the fallout from the pandemic and school choice with members of the Senate panel.
An intense exchange came when Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., pressed Cardona on whether he supports the idea of a school choice system in which “money follows the child.” Or did Cardona support the alternative, the senator asked, which he characterized as “the old paradigm… where you’re funding the school itself and not following the child.”
“I believe the latter. I believe we need to make sure all of our schools are well-resourced so we don’t have a system of winners and losers,” Cardona responded. “This budget reflects an attempt to make sure we’re addressing inequities.”
“We have to make sure all schools provide all students with high quality education… I believe that we need to fund public schools so that every student that attends a public school can have a high-quality education,” Cardona continued.
The secretary conceded that, in some instances, schools are not “producing” good outcomes for their students, and need to be held responsible for their failures. But, he said, “There needs to be equal parts support and accountability.”
Many Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing proposals – particularly on a state level – to allow students and parents to choose which schools to send their children to, and reward those schools with funding based on their enrollment. This money could go to public or private schools, and the conservative proponents of the idea say it would not only help students, but also force schools to step their game up if they’re falling behind.
Democratic opponents of this idea, supported by teachers unions, accuse Republicans of aiming to defund public education and direct taxpayer dollars to religious or for-profit institutions.
Cardona Tuesday also spoke with senators about the massive learning loss students suffered in areas that shut down schools during the pandemic. Schatz called remote learning a “total disaster” and asked Cardona his thoughts on the matter.
“I do think blended learning has a role as we move forward in education,” Cardona said. “But I don’t think that the transition to fully online learning worked for most students, although for others, for some students, a small number of students in my visits have reported that they felt more comfortable that way.”
Cardona added: “The majority of students wanted to return back to in-person learning.”