15. Laura Meckler Discusses Secretary Nominee Miguel Cardona in Advance of Confirmation Hearing
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The train has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. Today is the beginning of the Senate Confirmation hearing of the Biden-Harris administration nominee, Miguel Cardona, for Secretary of Education. Expert Laura Meckler joins us from the Washington Post to discuss the historical appointment of Miguel Cardona. With the incoming administration already making changes within the first few weeks, Laura discusses differences between the recent Secretary of Education and the current nominee, Miguel Cardona. We also discuss the unique complexities of how race-relations and bilingualism may impact the coming administration, and how Cardona may impact the lost generation
If confirmed, Miguel Cardona will be the third Latino, and second Puerto Rican, to serve as Secretary of Education. Join us as we discuss Cardona’s unique background as an educator, student of the public school system, and how that may impact U.S. education in the coming years.
We are grateful to have Laura Meckler on our podcast this week.
Laura Meckler is a national education writer for The Washington Post, where she covers national trends, federal policy and the Education Department. She came to The Post from the Wall Street Journal, where she covered presidential politics, the White House, changing American demographics, immigration and health care. Before that, she worked at the Associated Press Washington bureau and covered state government in Columbus, Ohio.

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Laura Meckler (00:00): So there are other kids who I've heard an educator referred to as like, just add water. You know, these kids are going to be fine. Just, just give them a, give them the basics, give them a basic good education. They're going to be fine. You don't need a bunch of interventionists and this and that, the other, you know, so, but some kids, you do, you do, you need that. And that costs money. So even being equal, it's not necessarily equitable.

The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:23): Welcome to the student loan podcast here. You'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses and inspiring stories about paying off student loans. We're your hosts, Daphne, Vanessa and Shamil Rodriguez

Shamil Rodriguez (00:41): Welcome everyone to the student loan podcast. And we have a very special guest for you today. Uh, we have Laura Meckler on the line as a special guest. She is a journalist with the Washington post. Uh, she has a track r ecord of covering education for several years, uh, and graduates from Washington university in St. Louis, but hails from Cleveland originally. And luckily we were able to bring her on board to discuss a recent appointment, or I guess not so recent now, but, um, Miguel Cardona's appointment, uh, as secretary of education. Um, and we wanted to really take that deep dive into what that necessarily means on a national level, what that might mean for folks moving forward, uh, from an education perspective. Uh, so I'm going to let Laura do a better job of introducing herself in there. Um, because she really is a pro we're really happy to have her here.

Shamil Rodriguez (01:37): She's a journalist with the Washington post, uh, and has covered this topic. So we're really proud and excited to have her on board today so that we can provide some value to those listeners out there that are interested in this topic and bringing it to an audience that would, would hopefully learn and see the value in speaking about the future secretary of education, assuming he gets approved by the Senate, of course, which I think is probably going to happen. His confirmation hearing is coming up. So, um, I haven't seen any indication that he'll really draw any kind of significant opposition. So I think that Miguel Cardona will DB our next secretary of education. Well, that's good news. So Laura, how about we start with a little bit about yourself? Sure. Yeah. I actually grew up in shaker Heights, Ohio, which is outside of Cleveland. I mentioned that because it is a long history of racial integration and they're grappling with issues of equity today.

Laura Meckler (02:30): So it's a very interesting place, which I actually wrote about last year, I went to wash U um, after that there was some people journalists who come right to Washington, get jobs right in DC and sort of launch their career. That was not my story. I like to say I sort of scrapped my way up the journalistic food chain. Um, I, my first job was in Canton, Ohio, which is about an hour South of Cleveland, um, home of the pro football hall of fame and the annual pro football hall of fame fireworks festival, which I covered two years in a row. Um, it is, uh, so that's where I started out. Then I moved to Columbus, the state Capitol of working for a teen of these papers where I covered state government from there, I, I have to the associated press in Columbus. Um, and soon after I got there and opening, um, uh, merged or was posted for the AP in Washington, I'd always wanted to be in Washington.

Laura Meckler (03:22): I viewed it as an opportunity to just kind of get myself on their radar. So I asked if I could apply. I applied and I got that job onto the national staff of AP and DC. So that was a big break for me and came to DC where I worked for the AP. Um, and you know, I started out, I feel like the bottom, I was the night general assignment reporter who like, was just like, you know, cleaning up the little messages from all over the place. So around the day, you know, covering events at night sometimes, um, trying to match stories that other people had that would come out late at night at the time. And, um, and then I did take, I took a, I did a fellowship called the name and fellowship, which is at Harvard for a year, is for journalists to take some time off. And just mentioned since this is about education. So that was sort of a, an education vacation, um, or audited courses. Um, um, but it was perfect because I didn't have to pay and I didn't have to worry about grades. So those are like, you know, college without having to pay for it or worry about your grades. That's pretty much the ideal situation.

Shamil Rodriguez (04:25): We are all about that here at The Student Loan Podcast. Yeah.

Laura Meckler (04:29): Um, so I did that for a year. And then after that, I went to moved to the wall street journal, um, at the API covered healthcare for the most part healthcare and welfare reform. Um, at the journal I was hired to cover transportation, which was not a particular passion, but that was the available position. So I took it, I covered transportation then back to healthcare. Then I moved to cover politics. I covered the McCain campaign in 2008, and then we went on to cover the Obama white house for four years. After that I covered, uh, immigration and changing demographics. Then it was pulled back to politics and covered the Hillary Clinton campaign for two years, then back to immigration for the beginning of the Trump administration. And then I moved to the Washington post in 2018 and I've been here covering national education since then.

Shamil Rodriguez (05:16): Nice. Well, thank you so much for sharing. I'm sure some of our guests are going to want to reach out to you that may have those aspirations. Then we've had other guests that are journalists as well that have had a, you know, hard work ethic leads to success perspective. And so I think it's, it's great to make sure that we share that with our listeners. What are, what do you think are some of the, I guess, initial, uh, contrast that you might draw between, uh, secretary Cardona and, uh, secretary to boss? Oh man. Well, um,

Laura Meckler (05:48): You know, they're just really different. I mean, they're not just different in terms of policy, but they're just as human beings, they're quite different. Um, and she's older than he is. Obviously she's female white woman. He's a Latino man, but, um, the differences go far deeper than that as well. Um, she is very wealthy, was born into a wealthy family, married into a wealthier family, um, is really, didn't have a lot of experience with the public schools. She went to private schools, our kids went to private schools. That was one of the criticisms of her. Um, she was involved with Republican politics, um, and very activist for school choice, which was her sort of, um, that is really the cause of her adult life and was definitely the centerpiece of her time as secretary of education. Of course she did do things that were relevant to the student loan program, which I'm sure you all have covered in depth, but, um, she, um, you know, really what got her up in the morning was excitement over giving, um, alternatives to the public schools for, um, for, uh, K-12 students.

Laura Meckler (06:55): So that was Betsy loss. Uh, Miguel Cardona is quite different. Um, he, uh, grew up as a product of the public schools in Connecticut. Uh, he has worked in K-12 public education, his whole career. Um, he also though did not really have any federal experience before does not, I should say, does not have any federal experience. He was been the education commissioner in Connecticut, really for just about a year and a half. Um, when he got this call, um, it not long at all, really. I mean, so he would have just listened to years ago, been an assistant superintendent, um, at the school district where he grew up, um, outside of Hartford. So it's, um, mirrored in, it's not, um, it's a pretty, uh, fast rise for him. Um, then we can talk about some of the reasons why I think he was, um, the team was, were drawn to him, but, um, yeah, when we think about Betsy Devoss and we think about Miguel Cardona, I think it's fair to say that we're going to get very different things.

Shamil Rodriguez (07:57): Yeah. So, so how about we go into a little bit more into why the Biden team, uh, chose him as somebody who wasn't necessarily the, the popular choice or I guess, whatever it's so far?

Laura Meckler (08:09): Well, I think the popular choice, I think the, the, one of the problems that they faced was that certain people were popular with certain groups and not so much with others. And, um, whoever, if they found somebody who the unions were enthusiastic about them, there were other people in the democratic party who are more in the sort of education reform camp, uh, accountability, that kind of stuff, which is a little bit on the outs, but, um, still they are, do have a voice inside the party and they weren't so happy with those folks. So you really had, um, a situation where people who had kind of been in the scrum for a while had been taking positions on controversial issues were divisive. Um, Miguel Cardona does not really ha hasn't been in those Wars, hasn't been in the trenches. So that means nobody really didn't like him, um, which is always helpful.

Laura Meckler (08:59): Um, but why did they like him? Um, I think that's obviously a good question. And I think there were a couple of things in his record that drew the Biden team to him. The first seems to be that he was very involved with getting schools to reopen in Connecticut. Um, the governor was very focused on reopening schools and Cardona was his partner in that. And most of the schools districts in Connecticut did open, not just most all, but one reopened in one shape or form. Some of them were hybrids where kids are in school part of the day or part of the week and that home for part, but, um, that really put Connecticut, um, set Connecticut apart from a lot of other, uh, States run by Democrats in particular, um, who were much more reluctant to return to in-person in person classes. So, um, Biden of course we know has made a big focus of trying to reopen school. So I think that through him, to him, and also I think that, um, Cardona's interest in issues of equity issues of closing the achievement gap, the racial achievement gap. I think that those are things that the incoming or the now I should say the new administration, um, is interested in as well. So I think those were a couple of reasons.

Daphné Vanessa (10:09): It's awesome. And I fully am in agreement with, uh, that, that analysis. It does seem that, that his approach on opening schools during the crisis was really the drawing factor for the current administration, given, you know, the, the addressing the crisis, being their primary focus. Um, my next question deals with his focus on bilingual education and how that can change the face of the country. What are your thoughts on his approach on bilingual education and what are some differences you've seen from other administrations?

Laura Meckler (10:46): Hmm, it's interesting. I think he is interested in that for sure. Uh, he grew up in a Spanish speaking household. His parents came from Puerto Rico to Connecticut. Um, they lived in poverty, you know, he lived, grew up in public housing. So, um, he has a lived experience that is similar to a lot of students in the public schools today. Um, I don't actually know what his policy agenda is for bilingual education. Um, bilingual education has actually become popular, um, uh, Spanish immersion programs and such often with the frankly with non-Spanish speaking, um, parents, um, white parents who want their kids to be able to speak Spanish, um, to sort of live in the world, the country that we have. Um, so, um, I think it's a lot of what I've heard about that has been more on that level, like teaching kids Spanish, but the nice thing when these programs work well, what you end up having is a pairing where the Spanish speaking kids, you know, sometimes school is taught in Spanish and the Spanish speaking kids get to be the experts and they get to teach the English, speaking, kids something. And then, and later in another part of the day, it's the other way around. And so it creates a much more even playing field where everybody gets to gets to be a learner and everybody gets to be a teacher. Um, which I think is a really powerful thing. Um, I don't know where Cardona stands on those programs, to be honest. Uh, but it's something that's definitely worth looking into. I'll put it on my list

Daphné Vanessa (12:08): To, to see you look at that. And I'm not sure have you, um, veering off a little bit, have you listened to the podcast? I think it's called nice white parents or something like that, where they do a deep dive into a Brooklyn school district and how it changed with, with gentrification. What are your thoughts on how, uh, given, given Carlos track record, how he may approach that type of situation in our public schools?

Laura Meckler (12:36): Well, yes, I have heard nice white parents. I've also wrote a story about that same district. Um, I, about a year before the podcast came out, um, about the integration of the effort to integrate the schools in that district, the middle schools, um, her podcasts really looked at more historically the failures and then at the end had a little bit about the success. My story was about what was happening today, which really what this is about is about segregation in our schools and what was happening in Brooklyn. Um, and what truthfully is the case throughout the New York city schools and beyond well beyond is that, um, in Brooklyn and in New York, there was a heavy degree of choice. Uh, parents could rank what middle school they wanted to go to it wasn't set by your boundary. It wasn't just like, all this neighborhood goes to this middle school.

Laura Meckler (13:20): It was, you got to rank the 11 middle schools inside this area of Brooklyn. Um, but they had screens on them. So they had the schools were kind of picking their students as much as the students picking their schools. You had to have certain test scores for summer attendance records and that kind of thing. Um, and the result was that certain schools that had high standards for test scores in particular attracted wealthy white students and other schools attracted, um, but more likely to attract lower income nonwhite students, uh, students of color. And, um, you had a lot of, it drove a lot of segregation. So what they decided to do in Brooklyn was they actually got rid of all the screens and they actually went the other way. They said, we're going to give priority for every middle school on the Sistrix to, um, kids who are at risk, which is defined as living in poverty or homelessness or English language learners.

Laura Meckler (14:17): And the re the first 52% of seats will be set aside for them. So even in the most elite schools that had the highest quote unquote standards beforehand, those were, those seats were filled first by kids who are at risk and then by other kids randomly. So, um, it's a really interesting how that, that ended up happening. And, um, it did, it made a big impact in terms of diversifying those schools. Um, so I did write about that. So, sorry, that's a little bit of a tangent, but passionate about, I'll send you the story. You can link to it in the show notes. Um, it's um, it's, uh, I followed two, um, six sixth graders, um, Sophie and angel, Sophia white girl from an affluent family who normally who both, they both chose this one school called math and science as their first choice, which is one of these sought after middle schools and, um, angel who came from, um, a heavily Hispanic, lower income community, got a seat there.

Laura Meckler (15:19): And normally we probably never would have been there. Um, Sophie did not, Sophie ended up going to middle school in Angel's neighborhood. And then I followed the two of them as they both navigated experiences that were different from what would be expected. And it was actually hard for both of them, but they both were, they were both doing it. And, and I think at the end you could see how this program was succeeding. So, um, anyway, so what does Miguel Miguel Cardona think about that kind of thing? I think the broadly, I doubt he'll be getting involved with the, uh, the details of Brooklyn, uh, Brooklyn's middle school plan, but that said, um, you know, segregation in our school system is a huge issue. Um, largely because it deals with issues of equity and, um, you know, are people getting, not all kids are getting what they need.

Laura Meckler (16:07): I mean, that's just the reality, the sad truth of our school systems, uh, school system today. And, um, he is definitely focused on issues of equity. I don't know what he'll specifically do. I mean, there's one thing, I think for instance, like a real piece of low-hanging fruit is the Obama administration had some guidance about diversity and about how to legally going about voluntarily integrating your schools, what you can do. Um, for instance, by drawing boundaries in a way that, um, encourages integration, as opposed to exacerbate segregation, you can decide, or you, my drawing the line this way, between up and down between two schools or my drawing it left to right between two schools, and that might produce very different outcomes of the student populations. So there's a lot of information in that guidance that was put forward. It also dealt with affirmative action on the college level, um, the Trump administration rescinded. So, and they just said like, you know, we're not guiding you this way anymore. I suspect that we'll see a reinstatement of that.

Shamil Rodriguez (17:07): No, hopefully that's, that's wonderful. Actually, I appreciate that the, I don't consider it a tangent. I think it was right on point.

Laura Meckler (17:13): Okay. Well, excellent. Excellent.

Shamil Rodriguez (17:16): So, no, I think to stay on that, along that same vein, um, we saw your article about the lost generation and that's, I think, would you mind just educating the listeners or just sharing with the listeners, what that, what that, that term means and like what that might mean in this COVID-19 environment? Um, I think it's really good to talk about these topics because a lot of times people might want to separate K through 12 from higher education student loans. But my, my thought process is that, you know, just because you now go to college, doesn't mean that everything that you've been conditioned to believe, uh, from your childhood all the way through in your education just stops or all of a sudden now you see life in a different perspective. So I, it would be great to see how, uh, what that lost generation means, what that term means in that article that, that it was, I thought was very interesting.

Laura Meckler (18:04): Yeah. That was a quote from John King. Who's the former secretary of education under president Obama, his second secretary of education, um, the fear of a lost generation and, um, deals with all the kids who are essentially, um, not getting the kind of school they need right now during the pandemic. You know, we're, we're coming on to close to a year from when schools first started closing some kids. Haven't been inside a school room for close to a year. And so it's a long time. And while teachers are doing the best they can, online families are doing the best they can online. It's not easy to make that work. Um, I said that both as an education writer, as well as I parent, um, with kids who are learning from home, it's hard and the fewer resources you have, the harder it is. Um, so, um, you know, if you're, um, just, you can, I've, I've written about kids who have just incredible pressures on them.

Laura Meckler (19:01): Some of them are taking care of younger siblings. Some of them having to work themselves, some of them are COVID is ravaging their neighborhood, and they're scared, or maybe their families are sick and they're dealing with that. It's just a lot, it's a lot. And, um, school isn't always happening and certainly not the way it should. And it's, you know, school has just been, uh, you know, how are you teaching a kid to read when you're just like trying to bandages zoom class? I mean, it's hard, right? So the fear is that kids are gonna like be fall behind. I mean, the testing that was done in the fall showed that the loss of instructional time in the spring had a real impact. Kids were further behind in the fall than they, that they were expected to be based on normal patterns. So the projections are that we're talking about months and months of loss learning. And how do you make that up? So that's the concern in a nutshell, um, that's what the loss, the fears of the lost generation are. Um, obviously we hope, I hope that's an overblown statement, um, at the end of the day, but we'll, but we'll see. We'll see. Yeah,

Shamil Rodriguez (20:08): No, I think you, it ties well with your original point about, uh, secretary of court donut and the Biden administration wanting to reopen schools. I know that's, you know, obviously there's a delicate dance in terms of helping safety, uh, and providing education, but making sure that, that, that gap doesn't continue to,

Laura Meckler (20:28): Well, you know, the, the, one of the ironies, um, many of the many ironies and cruelties of this pandemic is the fact that the kids who probably need it the most, um, who are kids who have the least are also families in communities that have been the most ravaged by the pandemic. So in fact, actually, um, somewhat surprisingly, um, poor families, black and, um, Hispanic families have been the least likely to want to go back or to accept offers when they're giving the offer to go back. So here in Washington, DC, where I live, the schools are getting ready to reopen for some kids on Monday. But, um, the research finds that while there are kids all over the city who, who are going to be going back, that there is a disproportionate number in the wealthiest parts of the city who are taking advantage of that. So, um, you know, like I said, probably the kids who need it, I mean, all kids need it, but less urgently perhaps. And for all others, lots of reasons to explain that

Daphné Vanessa (21:36): I I'm just so saddened by this truth, but if it, but this is the reality that we're living in. Um, where are we in terms of, or, or what are your thoughts, I think is a better way of asking, uh, on repurposing different types of education. I know we've moved towards online education with, um, you know, because we had to with, with the COVID crisis, but do you think that this new administration will start to incorporate different types of learning, be it experiential learning, um, you know, forms of VR, you know, just different types of learning experiences that may have become more normalized by a generation that was used to just sitting in a classroom and being lectured for hours.

Laura Meckler (22:29): It doesn't sound very great when you put it like that. [inaudible] like video games like kids would be like, yeah, let's do more of that. Um, so, um, truthfully I don't think the new administration will necessarily be that involved with that. These things are really being on the local level, but I think you bring up a good point, which is that I think even to the it's important, even as we talk about the damage that remote school is doing to a lot of kids, some kids prefer it. I mean, especially kids who are more introverted, kids who have trouble with social navigating social situations, um, for some kids going to school is an anxiety producing event and being able to do it at home, there are, there are some advantages to that. So there me be, and there is conversation about whether there might be people who prefer the remote and, and that maybe that becomes more, it's always been an option. There've been a lot of online schools around for awhile, um, of varying degrees of quality, I should say, but maybe there, there may be a new demand for that. Um, you know, hopefully high quality versions of that

Daphné Vanessa (23:36): Fully agree. Um, and then just to piggyback off of that same topic, we were talking about the lost generation earlier, is the us behind? Are we now, this is a global pandemic everyone's had every country, most countries have had some variation of, you know, education being stunted. Where are we on the global scales in terms of competing with other countries with our education force,

Laura Meckler (24:03): Specifically pandemic related

Daphné Vanessa (24:05): Pandemic related, the lost generation. Are we so behind that we won't be able to compete globally?

Laura Meckler (24:12): Hmm, good question. I mean, I think this is affecting everybody. So I think that everybody's kind of getting pushed back. Um, I don't actually know if it's worse elsewhere. There are places like in Europe that have been more bullish about bringing kids back. Um, but I don't know enough about the global situation to know if it really will change us standing. Um, you know, in terms of competitiveness.

Shamil Rodriguez (24:37): Good question F but I guess along those same lines of dealing with the, the, the pandemic, I can assume that, or we can presume here that the that's usually something that you don't think about that you'd have to manage now we've all dealt with in a different way. Right. But the secretary of education typically wouldn't think that that's what their role would now have to be. Um, could you talk a little bit more about how that has had to change under the boss and then moving forward, you know, and this new ministry and how that might look?

Laura Meckler (25:04): I mean, I think that none of us did, right. I mean, w we're all healthcare reporters now, um, the, um, you know, uh, journalism magazine that I, uh, get, you know, had a cover awhile ago that said meet your new beat. And it was COVID-19, you know, I mean, it's like everybody is writing about this. Everybody is dealing with this. So, yeah, I think that is fair to say that our educational system was not, um, prepared for this in the way that you might think. I, I re I recall, um, being at the last bless social really, truly big like party I was at before this happened, um, this will eventually relate to your question. I promise, um, was, um, early March of last year, it was my son's seven year old birthday party. And it was at, at Chucky cheese. I'd have to say that if I knew that was going to be my last social event, I might've chosen something other than checking cheese.

Laura Meckler (26:00): But anyway, we were at Chuck E cheese add your, your listeners are younger, so maybe they still like to eat cheese anyway, uh we're there. And there was a parent there who worked for a private school who was frantic. It was a Saturday, and she was on her phone, completely scrambling about what they were going to do if they had to close. And I was like, and I would have been written. I had written just like once or one or two stories about how some schools were closing, like mostly in Washington state, where, where the pandemic really kind of started and in this country. And I was like, Oh my God, she's really panicked about this. She's like, Oh yeah, we're trying to figure out how to get laptops to people. We're trying to figure out what we're going to do before. If you know how we're going to deliver education remotely that everybody's talking about.

Laura Meckler (26:44): And I like, it hit me with like a Gale force winds. I was like, Oh my God, this is bigger than I thought. And then within a week, like practically the entire school system, it shut down. It was that fast. It went from, Oh, this is an isolated thing. I remember the Friday before I had lunch with someone at the department of education, I was like, Oh, can you give me a list of the schools that have closed? And so she sent me a list. And so I was like, it was, it was, we were at the point where we were counting. Like, we could count up how many had closed, as opposed to all of them, you know, which is what the case had been, was like within a week or week and a half. It was like that fast. So yeah, no, I don't think secretary Devoss had a clue that she was going to have to be dealing with this, but I don't think she is unique in that regard at all.

Shamil Rodriguez (27:28): What about the, the idea of like the reopening, if you don't mind, let's go back to that, that concept of what are some of the, the trends that it's not that every school, like every school obviously shut down for some period of time, but there were some schools that were much more aggressive early on, and I've had that flexible schedule that you mentioned before, and we've spoken to educators about that, that, you know, have their own views from the union perspective. Um, and would you mind sharing, uh, I guess some of the, your thoughts on, in, in your research and writing on, on that specific aspect of education,

Laura Meckler (27:59): This has been such a patchwork around the country. I mean, you know, really hasn't been, um, you've seen someplace like Texas, the entire state of Texas and Florida are basically open. Full-time not hybrid full time. Everybody has the option. Now, some kids are opting to stay home, but they all have the option for in-person full-time learning. That was like governors, Republican governors taking their cues from president Trump and just like, say we're doing it period. So that's on one extreme. And then you have other places that have still not opened at all for anything in person, um, to date. So, and then a lot of in between. Um, so different places are really looking at differently as you alluded to, um, teachers unions, places that have powerful teachers unions. Um, a lot of times teachers have really resisted it. Um, and, uh, you know, they've played a role in demanding that schools, um, have adopt certain safety measures.

Laura Meckler (28:55): I mean, there's, um, there's a line to me. I think that there are a lot of very reasonable requests that you need to have made. I think there's also been some that have, um, kind of, I don't think they ever really want to get to yes, truthfully. So, um, you know, cause they're genuinely afraid truthfully, but you're balancing like the fears against the, as we talked about this like enormous learning loss and emotional toll on children, um, there is some reassuring news, I mean, just last, this last week, um, the CDC reported that, um, it was safe to reopen with mitigation strategies in place like mask wearing and social distancing within the school. As a couple of examples, they have looked at, there's been some studies looking at transmission inside of schools and it's found that there really hasn't a lot of transmission inside of schools. So, you know, there's, there's that, that, that's definitely a cause for, um, optimism about the ability to reopen. So we'll see how much impact that has that combined with, you know, Biden's interest in reopening, you know, we'll see, we'll see where we land.

Daphné Vanessa (30:06): That's fantastic. Laura. I want to take our audience back to the basics. I realized we jumped straight into the meat and potatoes and our audience may not understand the role of the secretary of education. So let's talk about those basics so that we see in the scope of work.

Laura Meckler (30:26): Well, sure. I mean, I wouldn't blame them. I don't think it's something that a lot of people wake up in the morning and think, well, I wonder what the section is up to. I mean, I will say one difference between Miguel Cardona and Betsy Devoss is that I bet you that most of your listeners know who Betsy Devoss is. And, but I wonder how many, even four years from now will be able to name Miguel Cardona. He's going to be one of those trivia questions. You know, we're like, Hey, who can name the secretary of education? I think it's going to be one. It's going to be one of those because truthfully it's, um, she was a lightning rod and he is less not going to be that way. I don't think. And um, the other reason is because the federal department of education does not really have much to do with K-12 schools, even though we've spent this whole time talking about K-12.

Laura Meckler (31:14): Um, and that's why I covered, they, they really, they have on the margins, they are involved on the margins. They are not, um, the most of these decisions are driven at the local level. And to some extent the state level now what the secretary of education does have a lot to do with is what your podcast normally talks about, which is the student one program. I mean, it runs a bank. So you all I'm sure know more than I do in my, I have a colleague who covers the student loan program, very ably. Um, so I think that a lot of what he has to do with it's going to be about accreditation, what schools qualify for the student loan program and debt forgiveness, and all of those issues, um, which are really, really important. And truthfully that, that, um, the secretary has a lot more, um, a lot more to say about, um, I don't think we're going to see like a big Biden proposal.

Laura Meckler (32:02): We might see like a free community college proposal or something like that, but the truth is that, um, he, he proposed it. He has like a, he has a, um, uh, a free tuition version of that, um, uh, proposal as well. But you know, like there's so much, I mean, he's proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID re rescue package. You know, I don't, I'm not sure how far that money is going to go. So I wouldn't be counting on free tuition. Uh, anytime soon if I was a, uh, a student about to go to college, um, I just, I just think it's going to be a really heavy lift right now, but, but he might be, he would be involved with that. So, yeah, so he administered the department of education as the, is a short answer. And the department of education administers us to federal student loan program and also, um, sort of sets the tone for a variety of K-12 issues. So it deals of civil rights enforcement. That's a big part of his job, both K-12 and higher ed. Um, so when there are some allegations of, uh, violations of student civil rights, those go to a office in the department of education. Um, anyway. Yeah.

Daphné Vanessa (33:11): And would you say that the department of education has influence in terms of providing incentivized funding for K through 12?

Laura Meckler (33:19): Yes. I mean, so Arnie Duncan under, uh, Barack Obama do use the power of the education department quite, um, to its max, I would say by trying to get them to adopt, uh, various reforms, um, accountability based reforms through first through a fundamentally called race to the top, which was part of the economic stimulus package that was approved in 2009. Um, and then later through granting waivers to the no child left behind program, he granted waivers that you had to do certain things to get the waiver and that included accountability reforms. So he drove that agenda, not by forcing anybody, but with carrots, essentially. So if you want this thing that if you want this funding or you want this, this Weaver, or what have you, which they did, of course, you got to do this, that and the other. So that is one way we'll see whether, um, I think that Cardona's focus is more likely to be just cause of where things are going and more on equity. And we'll see if he tries to use the department it's similar ways to push an equity agenda.

Daphné Vanessa (34:21): Interesting. I'm very excited to see how that can be leveraged, um, in the future. That will be very different from our recent administration. Yes, I would agree.

Shamil Rodriguez (34:32): Would you mind giving sharing of just a few points to the listeners about what that, uh, what types of equity changes or I guess what type of changes would occur that would improve equity?

Laura Meckler (34:44): Well, it's, uh, from the federal level, you mean, or from this, you know, I mean, it's, it's a good question. Like, you know, this isn't really a federal issue, but a couple of the areas where they could move the ball. One is the Biden's proposed a huge increase in title one funding. Um, title one is, uh, a funding stream, a grant that goes to high poverty schools. So if you sending money to high poverty schools, that obviously is, uh, isn't an effort to bring them up. Um, another way more fundamentally is to try to persuade States to, um, devise funding, formulas that are more equitable in and of themselves. So how do they distribute the money? I mean, one of the inequities that's built into our system is, is that schools are typically funded through property taxes and property, Texas property is worth more in wealthy parts of the country.

Laura Meckler (35:35): So therefore the schools get more. So it's sort of like baked into this, like, you know, like the rich fund, the rich and get more money. And that's the way that goes, you know, so that isn't, um, as opposed to, I think an equity lens would look at this and say, schools, what do schools need? I mean, the truth is high poverty schools get less and need more. They need more. It does not that they need to be equal it's that they actually need more. Because if you're, if you're taking kids who have more severe problems, it costs more money to educate them. It just does. You know, so there are other kids who I've heard an educator referred to as like, just add water, you know, these kids are going to be fine. Just, just give them a, give them the basics, give them a basic good education. They're going to be fine. You don't need a bunch of interventionists and this and that and the other, you know, so, but some kids, you do, you do, you need that, and that has money. So even being equal, it's not necessarily equitable. And I think that's one thing we're going to hear a lot about is the difference between equality and equity. Those are two different things.

Shamil Rodriguez (36:41): Well said, well said, Laura, because we, we absolutely agree with that, that idea that the equitable doesn't mean equal. And so we'll, we'll see how that changes. And I think we've seen that just on my own personal tangent, cause we've seen, I've worked with some folks that are delivering food to their students as teachers. Right. And so, uh, that to me is one of those indirect ways that folks don't necessarily focus on in terms of education when they have that, you know, just add water concept that it's, you have to look at the holistic perspective of the student and sometimes, you know, their best meal might be coming from going to school.

Laura Meckler (37:14): Absolutely. And then you perfectly, that's a really good way to think about equity, if for any listeners who haven't thought about it before, would it make sense to say, okay, well that teachers delivering meals to schools, well, where's my meal. It, you know, if, if, if somebody who has plenty of food, well, no, of course not. You've got a fridge full of food. You don't need the teacher to bring you food. Right. So nobody would say that teachers should spend her time or his time delivering food to people who have plenty of food. Right. Well, it's sort of the same, it's sort of the same idea. It's like, what do kids need? Getting kids what they need. Yeah. My, my one last question is legacy of this administration that just started the legacy in Washington with this sort of sped up time table. Do you want to talk about the 20, 24 presidential election? Yes, I'm ready. I'm ready for the midterms. I mean, come on, it's been a week who knows it's coming back to that election, the legacy. He hasn't even been to the house confirmation here yet, but I'll give it the question, go for it. So something that local schools have, have really pushed forward that the federal level hasn't pushed forward as much is the notion of leveraging community service with education in order to further good.

Daphné Vanessa (38:37): Um, and also educate how do you think this administration can weave in service to benefit the population while also teaching?

Laura Meckler (38:49): I mean, I think it sounds like a great idea, um, personally, but, um, I, since, I don't know if that's a federal thing truthfully, like that's like a lot of school districts have those kinds of initiatives where you get credit for doing community service and, you know, it's sort of a, a win-win, um, in fact, some districts have where there's a requirement that you have to do community a certain amount of community service. Um, but I don't know if that's necessarily a federal issue. Um, there could be funding for something that may be already be there may already be funding for that kind of a program. I'm not sure. Um, but my instinct is that that would probably not rise to the, uh, federal level, which does just to underscore to the point I made before, which is mostly as decisions are made on the local level.

Daphné Vanessa (39:36): Okay. Thank you. Sure.

Shamil Rodriguez (39:39): Sure. Sure. Well, Laura, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate you joining us on the show on the podcast today. And is there anything, any parting words you'd like to share with the listeners before we go?

Laura Meckler (39:49): I subscribe to a newspaper pay for journalism. I'm assuming that your younger, your listeners are younger and, um, you know, have a com uh, accustomed to receiving news for free just by Googling, whatever they might be interested in, but news is not for you to produce. Um, it's actually quite expensive. And, um, to if you value, uh, quality journalism and keeping, um, you know, checks on all the powerful institutions of our society, please subscribe to your local newspaper and also to the Washington post. But first of all, first, first and foremost to your local newspaper, because they really need your support.

Daphné Vanessa (40:26): Thank you. Thank you so much, Laura. It's been such a pleasure having you and we agree support journalism.

Laura Meckler (40:32): Thank you so much, guys,

Shamil Rodriguez (40:35): For more information about what you heard in today's episode, visit the student loan podcast.com/episode 15. That's the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 15.

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