We're celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week at the U.S. Department of Education. Today, Secretary Cardona wrote this piece for USA TODAY...
As a high school student in Connecticut, I always looked forward to art class with Linda Ransom, who nurtured my curiosity and creativity. One day, she tapped me on the shoulder and suggested I'd make a good teacher.
That moment changed the course of my life, inspired me to pursue a career as an educator and ultimately led me to an opportunity beyond my wildest dreams: serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Investing in teachers
At the Department of Education, we're working to show our appreciation by making year-round investments to support and lift up our teachers. At a time when many teachers feel undervalued, overworked and burned out by the pressures of the pandemic, this effort starts with listening.
What we've heard is clear: Teachers are under enormous strain.
Mounting staff vacancies are forcing teachers to take on more or larger classes, limiting the time teachers can spend providing students with individual attention, planning for rich instruction and meeting other responsibilities.
These unsustainable conditions risk driving more teachers from the field and undermine our efforts to achieve a lasting, equitable recovery for every student impacted by the pandemic.
Our educators need more support
With nearly all our schools reopened for in-person learning, I’m now pressing state and local education leaders to do even more to support their teachers, including increasing educator pay and improving working conditions – with additional supports, quality professional development and more opportunities to elevate teachers' voices in reimagining education post-pandemic.
Schools and districts must also hire more support staff and partner with area colleges and universities to recruit and prepare people from diverse backgrounds to join the teaching profession if we want to provide our students with the best education in the world.
This is possible thanks in no small part to the $130 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan designated for K-12 schools.
At the Department of Education, we are also using existing resources and programs to do our part. By establishing teachers' professional growth as a strategic priority at the department, the agency has focused more than $380 million in federal competitive grants on supporting programs that enhance educators’ capacity to meet their students’ needs. This is unprecedented.
Our commitment to doing this work continues in President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget, which seeks an additional $722 million for programs that support teaching and learning, improve working conditions in public schools, diversify the educator workforce and provide teachers with more opportunities to lead from the classroom.
We're reducing student debt burden
Finally, we must free our educators from burdensome student loan debt.
Teacher Appreciation Week may coincide with Public Service Recognition Week, but for far too long, too many teachers who made years of federal loan payments found themselves excluded from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. They deserve better.
Thanks in large part to feedback we received from teachers, the department has revamped the program so that from now until Oct. 31, teachers with federal student loans can apply to have any payment count toward PSLF, no matter what type of loan, federal loan servicer or repayment plan they have.
Teachers who apply for PSLF by Oct. 31 can also count past periods of service toward both PSLF and Teacher Loan Forgiveness rather than having to choose between these programs. I encourage all educators interested in qualifying for this program to visit StudentAid.gov/PSLF to learn more.
With these changes, in just six months, the Biden-Harris administration grew the number of borrowers approved for forgiveness from nearly 12,000 to more than 113,000 people eligible for over $6.8 billion in student loan debt relief. These numbers will keep growing, and our recent steps to provide PSLF credit for periods of forbearance could provide forgiveness to an additional 40,000.
And we're not stopping there.
The department’s Federal Student Aid office improved the TEACH Grant Program, so fewer teachers see their grants incorrectly convert to loans. These ongoing efforts have delivered nearly $50 million in relief to teachers who serve in high-need areas and fields by converting their loans back into grants.
Teacher appreciation is a commitment
Teaching is the foundation of all opportunity in America. It’s time state, local and federal government leaders treated the profession as the profound public service it is.
I will always be a teacher, and with me as secretary, the Department of Education will live out our appreciation for teachers with policies that reflect their invaluable contributions to our country.
The time has come to put teacher appreciation into action.
Miguel A. Cardona was sworn in as Secretary of Education on March 2, 2021. He previously served as the Commissioner of Education in Connecticut. He began his career as an elementary teacher and he has two decades of experience as a public school educator.