During our Department-wide meeting on March 2, I said I wanted you to feel proud, know you are part of something bigger than any one of us, and give your best to do the most for the students of our country. I hope that as we mark 100 days of the new administration and the close of my second month, you feel that sense of pride and purpose as I do. Despite all of us working remotely, and despite each of you making tremendous sacrifices over the past year as we weathered the pandemic, this entire agency hasn’t skipped a beat. You have worked nonstop to advance the Department’s mission and fulfill President Biden’s pledge to deliver much-needed help and hope to the American people during such a critical time.
We’re not pausing in this vital work, but taking a few moments to reflect on some of our accomplishments over the past 100 days. These have required countless hours of expertise and energy — of dedication and collaboration — across this agency. Everyone, in every office and every role has played a part — no matter if you’ve worked for the Department for three decades or three weeks. Each and every day I see you working with urgency to make sure our students, educators and schools get the information, assistance and support they need. I’m grateful for your commitment to promoting equity, educational excellence and achievement for all learners during this unprecedented time.
Here are just some of the ways we are serving the American people:
· In our drive to help schools continue their progress in safely reopening for in-person learning, and staying open, we hosted the National Safe School Reopening Summit with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and First Lady Jill Biden, who remains one of our biggest champions. During the event, panels of students, educators, district leaders and other partners engaged in productive conversations about the pandemic’s impact, strategies to reopen schools, and ways to rebuild. The success of this event was dependent on the work by so many of you across teams and offices, and I am grateful to the hard work of all involved.
· We have embarked on the “Help Is Here” school listening tour across seven states, discussing lessons and remaining needs in local reopening efforts, highlighting how the American Rescue Plan can help, and beginning the process of reimagining education with input from our partners. We’ve released two volumes of our COVID-19 Handbook to help schools, students, educators, stakeholders, and communities reopen and address the impacts of COVID-19, and we’ve launched the “Safer Schools and Best Practices Clearinghouse” to help share best practices around reopening efforts.
· We have already released $81 of $130 billion dedicated to safely and quickly reopening K-12 schools. The Department made these funds available to fund health and safety measures consistent with CDC guidance, address the disruptions to teaching and learning resulting from the pandemic, and get students back in the classroom quickly and safely. We’ve also let states know how to access the remaining $41 billion in funding for elementary and secondary schools, and have reinforced the urgency of reopening schools doors for in-person instruction and boldly addressing equity gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
o Watch this clip to hear how Tulsa, Oklahoma is using American Rescue Plan funding to support their students’ needs.
· We’ve launched the Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative, a partnership between the Department of Education, the National Governor’s Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. This collaborative assists states and districts in planning how to use their relief funds, including the $1.2 billion earmarked for summer enrichment identified in the American Rescue Plan, to address lost instructional and extracurricular time through summer programming.
· We have renewed our partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Education, providing immediate access to $900+ million in federal education funds, to address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students and expand equitable education access in the Commonwealth.
· We are conducting a comprehensive review of regulations implementing Title IX Guidance to provide guidance on guaranteeing educational environments free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity.
· In higher education, we have administered $1.3 billion in Disability Loan forgiveness, ensuring that 230 thousand borrowers with total and permanent disabilities can focus on their well-being. We also have streamlined debt relief determinations, and are providing $1 billion in relief following the issuance of new guidelines for Borrower Defense program eligibility.
· We paused student loan payments, helping an additional 1 million borrowers burdened by debt during the COVID-19 emergency. In addition, we have forgiven some $1 billion in predatory loans.
· In discharging $1.6 billion of debt for HBCUs, we have enabled these institutions to focus their resources on supporting students, faculty, and staff.
· We have provided nonstop assistance and guidance to educators, students, and stakeholders interested in our reopening efforts and the daily work of our agency — our call center has received over 67,000 calls just this year and we’ve engaged thousands of stakeholders to develop our policies and resources for students, educators, and communities.
I know there is even more I could have mentioned, and that this is just the start of what we can achieve together. We have further to travel on the path to reopening and rebuilding: supporting more schools in their efforts; addressing the longstanding equity, opportunity and achievement gaps that were exacerbated by the pandemic; and ensuring that students, families, and educators make a robust recovery.
As we celebrate our milestones thus far, and continue addressing the impact of COVID-19 on students and educators in early childhood education, K-12, and postsecondary education, I want to share some additional priorities to guide our work in the coming days and months. These include:
· promoting equity in student access to educational resources, opportunities, and welcoming environments;
· supporting a diverse education workforce, and educators’ professional growth, to strengthen student learning;
· meeting students’ social, emotional, and academic needs;
· improving student postsecondary education pathways, college affordability and completion; and
· strengthening cross-agency coordination and community engagement to advance systemic change.
I’m confident these priorities will position us to help every student — at every age and stage of their learning journey — to grow, thrive, and succeed, so others all across the country have the same opportunities for lifelong learning that we value here in this Department.
As a community of steadfast public servants, we know our work is essential to helping America build back better than ever before. Everything we achieve as an agency brings us nearer to that goal. Let’s continue to heal together, learn together, and grow together. I look forward to all the new milestones we will reach together in support of students.
We got this!