U.S. education chief criticizes political attacks on schools

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona lamented the ongoing political attacks on public schools during a visit to Decatur Monday.

Speaking at Agnes Scott College, President Joe Biden’s top education official said efforts to undermine school diversity programs are connected to feelings about race.

His comments came as a teacher in Cobb County faces a termination hearing next month over a book she read to her fifth grade class. Her lawyer said she stands accused of violating a new Georgia law that limits classroom discussions about race.

Also, the state agency that licenses teachers has been deleting the word “diversity” from the educational requirements for future teachers. Officials from the Professional Standards Commission say they are making the change because they say that word is ambiguous.

Cardona suggested race is often a motive.

“It’s frustrating,” Cardona said, “but as a Latino growing up in public school, at least they’re saying it out loud now.”

About 400 teachers, elected officials, superintendents and other education leaders were in the audience. It was among a series of speaker events hosted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Prior events have included former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Cardona blamed some of the criticism on private school advocates who, he said, want to promote legislation for private school funding, commonly known as vouchers.

Georgia has a voucher program for special education but none for general education, though some liken the state’s tax credit scholarship program to a voucher.

The Republican-led state General Assembly routinely considers but does not approve voucher bills, though one came close to passage earlier this year.

Also speaking before Cardona were three educators who discussed the impact of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on student loans and race-based admissions: Walter Kimbrough, former interim executive director of the Black Men’s Research Institute of Morehouse College; Tracey Nance, a former Georgia Teacher of the Year; and Matthew Boedy, current president of the Georgia chapter of the American Association of University Professors who teaches at the University of North Georgia.

Cardona and first lady Jill Biden are scheduled to visit Augusta on Tuesday to meet with local officials and involved in its Investing in America Workforce Hub effort to create jobs for students.