ED Review (02/17/23)

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February 17, 2023


State of the Union 

On February 7, President Biden delivered his State of the Union address (text and video).  He called for increased mental health care access in schools.  “When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental health care at their schools,” he said.  Youth mental health remains a top priority of the four-part “Unity Agenda” (White House fact sheet).

The President also called for free pre-kindergarten, teacher pay raises, and expanded career training.  “[W]e all know 12 years of education is not enough to win the economic competition of the 21st century,” he emphasized.  “If we want to have the best-educated workforce, let’s finish the job by providing access to preschool for three- and four-years old.  Studies show that children who go to preschool are nearly 50% more likely to finish high school and go on to earn a two- or four-year degree, no matter their background.  Let’s give public school teachers a raise.  We’re making progress by reducing student debt, increasing Pell Grants for working and middle-class families.  Let’s finish the job and connect students to career opportunities starting in high school, provide access to two years of community college -- the best career training in America, in addition to being a pathway to a four-year degree.  Let’s offer every American a path to a good career, whether they go to college or not.”

Secretary Cardona attended the speech as a member of the President’s Cabinet and made some comments on social media using #SOTU (tweets 12, and 3).

Among First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s special guests for the address were Maurice “Dion” Dykes of Knoxville, Tennessee, who is training to become a teacher through a Registered Apprenticeship program, and Kate Foley of Arlington Heights, Illinois, a student studying integrated manufacturing at Rolling Meadows High School (Secretary’s tweet).

Before the State of the Union address, the Department “asked a few young friends for their thoughts on where we are and where we are going” and called it the State of the School address.


Casey Elementary School 

The day after the address, Secretary Cardona traveled to Nebraska to tour a school focused on career pathways and talk with students about their experiences in a career-technical education (CTE) program (photos).  He also participated in a roundtable discussion with therapists, principals, and superintendents about mental health services provided to students in rural communities. 

The trip followed the Secretary’s “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” address on January 24, during which he laid out his vision for the Department’s direction in 2023: promoting academic excellence, improving learning conditions, and preparing students for a world where global engagement is critical to the nation’s standing.  The Secretary subsequently issued a Dear Colleague Letter to state and local officials and educators, asking them to “join forces to Raise the Bar for all students across the country.”  (Note: A Department video captures the priorities and related travel to date.) 

Also on February 8, Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten continued her national “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” tour by traveling to Brooklyn STEAM Center in New York.  She toured the facility to see students in action and took part in a panel discussion with students, parents, and industry partners about how the STEAM Center model is raising the bar in education (photos). 

Next, on February 13, Secretary Cardona joined the First Lady for a visit to Mesa Community College in Arizona.  College programs like Mesa College Promise are providing students with career-connected learning opportunities that lead to well-paying jobs (First Lady’s remarks and tweet). 

Then, on February 15, the Secretary traveled to Mississippi to meet with after-school program partners connected with the Department’s Engage Every Student initiative (photos).  He also visited Jackson State University to learn more about its efforts to recruit and train a more diverse teacher workforce (photos). 

Meanwhile, that same day, the Department announced first-ever awards under the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence Program.  Named for the first Black politician elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from west of the Mississippi River, this program supports comprehensive, high-quality teacher preparation programs at uniquely positioned Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs).  This is the first year the program has received funding since its creation in 2008.  Congress appropriated $8 million in the 2022 omnibus, and the Department redirected an additional $10 million (Secretary’s Twitter thread). 


Youth Mental Health Town Hall 

Also this week, Secretary Cardona and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy participated in a youth mental health town hall with students from John R. Lewis High School of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), Virginia.  A panel discussion, moderated by NBC’s Savannah Sellers and including Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health Dr. Kathleen Ethier and FCPS’ Director of Intervention and Prevention Services Dr. Michael Axler, underscored the Department’s mental health grants under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) and amplified the urgent need for more resources to address the mental health crisis.  After the discussion, there was a question-and-answer session with students (photos). 

The CDC released new data showing that 57% of teenage girls felt persistently sad or hopeless when surveyed in 2021 -- double that of teenage boys, as well as a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported over the past decade. 

Additionally, that same day, the Department announced awards of more than $188 million to 170 grantees in over 30 states to increase access to school-based mental health services and strengthen the pipeline of mental health professionals in high-need school districts.  These grants will enable communities to hire approximately 5,400 mental health professionals and train an estimated 5,500 more to support schools.  With funding from the 2022 omnibus and BSCA, the grants are the first in a series the agency will award over several years and constitute the nation’s largest-ever investment in school-based mental health. 


In an ongoing effort to boost family engagement and lift parent voices, the Department announced a partnership with the Carnegie Foundation of New York and the Overdeck Family Foundation to launch a Family Engagement Learning Series.  This series, which will kick off later this month, is intended to help education leaders and practitioners implement family engagement strategies that support student success.  The series will provide attendees with evidence-based research and strategies, bright spots in the field, and information on resources. 

The first virtual session, on February 28 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time, will focus on how family engagement can support literacy and math.  Additional sessions will be on the fourth Tuesday of the month over the next six months.  State-, district-, and community-level family engagement leaders will discuss attendance and student engagement, student and school safety, student mental health and well-being, kindergarten readiness, and college readiness. 

In support of family engagement, the Department has invested nearly $100 million since 2018 in Statewide Family Engagement CentersThere are currently 12 centers across the country.  These centers provide technical assistance and training to states and school districts in the implementation and enhancement of systemic and effective family engagement policies, programs, and activities. 


This month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced several major initiatives to support and enhance the health of children through nutritious school meals.  First, he shared updates to the school meal standards to reflect the latest nutrition science, including limiting added sugars in certain high-sugar products and, later, across the weekly menu; allowing flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars; incrementally reducing weekly sodium limits over a number of school years; and emphasizing products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products.  All interested parties are encouraged to comment on the proposed school meal standards rule during the 60-day comment period that started February 7.  Second, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding a $17 million grant to Action for Healthy Kids to identify, celebrate, and showcase schools implementing successful and creative strategies for serving healthy, appealing meals.  Third, to assist in carrying out the improvement work, small and rural schools are eligible for grants of up to $150,000. 



[I] have come to fulfill my constitutional obligation to report on the state of the Union.  And here is my report: Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the state of the Union is strong….  I stand here tonight having served as long as about any one of you who have ever served here.  But I’ve never been more optimistic about our future -- the future of America.  We just have to remember who we are.  We’re the United States of America.  And there’s nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together." 

-- President Joseph Biden (2/7/23), from his State of the Union address 


A reminder: Engage Every Student is launching a webinar series on a range of topics to support engagement in high-quality after-school and summer learning opportunities for every student.  The first session (February 23 @ 2 p.m. ET) will focus on program funding.  The second session (March 3 @ 2 p.m. ET) will focus on program sustainability. 

The Department will hold virtual listening sessions -- on March 8 and 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. ET -- on the impact of its guidance on how postsecondary institutions may compensate their recruiters.  The agency is hoping to learn more about how an exception contained within that guidance has affected the growth of online enrollment and associated federal student loan debt.  (Note: The Department also released updated guidance that clarifies when organizations that contract with institutions are considered regulated entities, known as third-party servicers.  In particular, the guidance clarifies when companies and others providing recruitment services for colleges fall into this category.) 

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