U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Ohio, talks student debt and school vouchers

He toured Columbus State Community College and Avondale Elementary School in Columbus City Schools during his Columbus visit

By: - April 21, 2023 4:50 am

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (left) and Columbus State President David Harrison on April 20, 2023, at Columbus State Community College. (Photo by Megan Henry for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Columbus area schools Thursday. 

“What I saw here today is something that I want to bottle up and I want to spread across the country,” Cardona said when talking to reporters. “When we talk about investing in America, this is what we’re talking about.”

Cardona toured Columbus State Community College and Avondale Elementary School in Columbus City Schools, the state’s largest school district, and was impressed with the collaboration he witnessed between K-12 schools, colleges and workforce development. 

“We’re talking about investing in programs that provide bridges for K-12 students to go into two year community colleges, to go visit the workforce and be employed, but also go back to four year schools to get advanced degrees,” Cardona said. “They’re doing that exceptionally well here.”

This kind of collaboration will lead to career opportunities and economic growth for Ohio, Cardona said. 

He also held a roundtable discussion with a handful of central Ohio superintendents and workforce leaders — including  including Silicon Valley semiconductor maker Intel that picked Licking County to build a new microchip factory.

“One of the things that brought Intel here was the collaboration that (Cardona) talked about,” Jim Evers, Intel Ohio General Manager said during the roundtable. “That is one of the reasons we were sold on this place.”

Science of reading

COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 06: Ohio Governor Mike DeWine observes the implementation of the Science of Reading program in the third grade classroom taught by RobinThalgott, April 6, 2023, at Southwood Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Cardona was impressed with the phonemic awareness — the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words — he saw at Avondale Elementary.

“I loved what I saw there because they were focusing on decoding,” he said. “I saw teachers working with students on phonemic awareness, which is critically important.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposed budget includes $64 million for science of reading curricula, $43 million each year for the next two years to offer science of reading instruction for educators, and $12 million to support 100 literacy coaches in schools and districts.

DeWine has been visiting schools around the state that are teaching using the science of reading, including Columbus City Schools

“I can’t speak specifically to the proposed law here,” Cardona said. “What I will tell you is we know what works for children. And we know that if children are not reading by third grade, we have a bigger problem. And we’re going to spend more money on intervention.” 

The Department of Education doesn’t have a role in curriculum development at the federal level.

School Vouchers 

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona met with a handful of central Ohio school superintendents on April 20, 2023, at Columbus State Community College (Photo by Megan Henry for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Cardona, who went to technical high school, talked briefly about school choice and vouchers. 

“What I’m not in support of is using public school dollars to fund vouchers, because then you have a system of winners and losers when the local neighborhood school doesn’t have the money for that reading teacher that I saw this morning,” he said. “It’s a system used in many places to dismantle public education.”

He said he doesn’t support taking money away from “already strapped schools.”

DeWine’s proposed budget would expand private school voucher eligibility from 250% of the federal poverty level to 400%.

Student debt 

The Biden administration’s federal student loan forgiveness plan is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m very confident that we have the legal authority,” Cardona said. “It’s in our DNA to fight for our students and to try to make higher education more affordable and more accessible. So no matter the decision, we’re going to continue to fight.”

Biden announced in August he would forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loans for people with annual incomes of $125,000 or less, and an additional $10,000 for people who received Pell grants, federal monies allotted for low-income students who want to pursue higher education.

There are 1,818,300 student loan borrowers in Ohio who together owe $63.1 billion as of Dec. 31, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Fifteen percent of Ohioans have student loans and the average student loan balance in Ohio was $34,923, according to small business website AdvisorSmith’s 2021 report “States with Highest Student Loans Debt.”

Cardona is also trying to wipe away an estimated $6 billion in student loan forgiveness for more than 200,000 borrowers who believed they were defrauded by the schools they attended, but Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is trying to prevent that.

Changing how people think about education

Cardona emphasized the importance of exposing students and parents to different educational opportunities available to students, including career technical education. 

“The more we do that proactive outreach … the more they’re going to understand how this is not only good for the economy, but this is good for families, this is good for kids,” he said. 

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.



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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.