Just In — Secretary Cardona’s Full Remarks For the Department of Education’s Equity Summit: ‘To Advance Equity, We Must Innovate’

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Below are the prepared remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, recorded in advance of Tuesday’s first installment of the Department of Education’s Educational Equity Summit Series. (We’ll be covering today’s event, sign up here to receive our coverage)

Remarks as prepared: 

Thank you, Melito, for the kind introduction, and more importantly, for all you do for the students we serve. You are a shining example of what it means to serve. Eres un orgullo Latino!

And thank you, Dr. Biden, our First Lady, for your inspiring words – but more importantly, for walking the walk. Despite the pandemic and the transition to the role of First Lady of the United States, you continued to teach your students. Your passion for teaching and ensuring that your students have what they need exemplify what it means to be a great teacher. Thank you for your service to our country as a teacher and for lifting the profession and purpose we have as educators focused on equity.

And to my Colleagues who’ve signed up for this important equity summit series, thank you for taking the time to join us. We hope that through your engagement, you will hear strategies that match our collective passion to make sure that we look at this reopening through a lens of equity. I don’t have to tell you that the inequities in education have been a constant since we have been collecting data. I don’t have to tell you that the pandemic exacerbated inequities, not only in education, but in other critical areas such as health and economic stability.

Well, we are here today because we plan to do something about it. This is a moment in education to boldly address the patterns of inequity that have been pervasive in our schools. This is our moment to ensure that we reopen, reinvest, and reimagine our schools differently and better than ever before. If we go back to how it was, we would be returning to a system where you can predict outcomes based on race and place, where the color of your skin and zip codes are better determinants of outcomes than the actual aptitude of our learners.

This is our moment to have the difficult conversations about how to build back better, how to lead transformatively, and how to use every penny provided by the President and Congress to ensure that those most impacted by the pandemic receive the most support. We have often heard, and maybe even exclaimed ourselves, that education is the great equalizer. Well, now is our chance to prove it. The funding is there, the urgency from the President is there. Are we going to lead through this and come out stronger? Or is the temptation of complacency going to dissipate our call to action?

I remember growing up listening to hip hop icons Public Enemy and they encouraged challenging the system and “Fighting the Power”. Well, now, we are the system. It’s on us to make the change we need in our country. In many places, small incremental change is not enough. We will need innovative and creative leadership fueled by urgency. The resources are there. At the federal, state, and local level — we must act.

These next months and years will determine the trajectory of success for millions of students in our care. This is our moment.

President Biden and Vice President Harris have made equity a core priority. It’s why the American Rescue Plan is ensuring that schools not only have the resources to re-open for in-person instruction quickly, but that they are also focused on investing in meeting the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of the students most impacted by COVID-19—who are often the same students who were furthest from opportunity before the pandemic.

It’s why the President’s American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan, and the rest of the fiscal year 2022 budget provide unprecedented investments in educational equity: Universal pre-K and free community college. Supporting $100 billion in investments in school infrastructure. More than doubling funding for Title I schools through new equity grants that will incentivize states to address inequitable school funding systems. Investing in our educators and building a diverse pipeline so every student from every background can be supported by teachers, mentors, and staff who share and understand their experiences. Doubling the number of school counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. Taking a huge step towards fulling funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And just last week, we affirmed that Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, making clear that every student, no matter who they are or whom they love, have equal access to educational opportunities in our schools.

Last week I visited Harvey Milk High School in New York City. There I heard from students about what they want to see in our education system. They spoke of wanting a system that is free from discrimination for students who are LGBTQ, students who have disabilities, or students from different racial backgrounds. They spoke about a system where all students had access to tools needed for learning, like broadband and technological devices. We know that many rural communities and poorer communities still do not have that. Collectively, we own the students at Harvey Milk High, and every student across the country, exactly that – a school that promotes equity and access in its DNA.

Equity in education is about providing all students, from all backgrounds and all parts of the country, with the resources and supports that they need to succeed and thrive in our society. It’s about providing them pathways to contribute to their communities, and to make the world a better place. Equity is not a passing buzzword, but an ongoing, continuous effort to make sure that every student feels supported in their classrooms and in every educational environment. That’s why this summit isn’t a one-time event for us – but something that will be infused in all of our work at the Department and across the Administration for the next four years.

To advance equity, we must innovate, share promising practices, and work together to create the education system that all of our students deserve, a system where students are at the center – while recognizing that for far too long, we haven’t lived up to that promise.

I hope you find that spirit and unwavering support in the Department of Education’s Equity Summit series.

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