U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona pitched for the president’s proposed fiscal year 2024 spending plan before Senate appropriators on Thursday.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), chair of the Senate Appropriation’s education subcommittee, kicked off the hearing by citing that there are more than 174,000 open jobs in her state, and that funding for education is critical for programs to continue to support key programs across the nation.
Ranking member Sen. Shelley Capito (R-West Virginia) noted that while education was key to the country’s success, the increase in proposed funding for the Education Department was problematic, calling out free community college, in particular. Additionally, Capito wanted assurances that student loan repayment would not be delayed again.
Cardona’s opening remarks mirrored his announcements last week, which included developing stronger career pathways for students. He also reiterated the need to “level up” on programs, services, facilities and basic needs for students across the nation, but particularly in rural areas and in places that serve underrepresented students.
“We know that our children need better facilities if we are going to increase literacy and numeracy. We know that students in classrooms with 90-degree temperatures are not learning effectively,” he said.
Cardona outlined how the proposed budget would impact a student throughout their lives and educational journey, noting that the funding would support basic needs, increases to Pell grants, and make college accessible and universal community college a reality.
“If we can work together, I know we can and we will raise the bar for education in this country,” he said.
Cardona then addressed student loan repayment questions, noting that communication with students has begun and will continue to ensure a smooth transition back to repayment.
Backing Workforce Pell
Several senators mentioned the need to support additional funding for Pell grants. Specifically, Workforce Pell, or Pell for short-term programs, was touted. On both sides of the aisle, there was stated support for accredited, high-quality programs to become Pell-eligible. Capito was vocal about the need for alternative pathways to higher education and the need to “continue to invest in career pathways, including expanding the Pell for short-term workforce training programs.”
Baldwin mentioned the need for Perkins funding to support career-connected high school programs and supported the proposed $200 million in additional funding to connect high school career programs with pathways to community college career and technical programs.
Cardona told the subcommittee that community colleges are better able to address regional workforce needs, and funding CTE programs are critical to student success. He mentioned specific programs between community colleges and major corporations when asked how business leaders should contribute.
“They should and they are by working directly with community colleges to provide curriculum for high-tech programs that fill the workforce pipeline,” he said.