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U.S. Secretary of Education visits New Hampshire, touts expansion of student debt relief and COVID relief aid

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona smiles at the camera.
U.S. Department of Education
Secretary Cardona visited Manchester Community College.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Manchester Community College on Thursday to tout the department’s expansion of student debt relief for public service workers, including veterans.

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In an interview with NHPR during his visit, Cardona addressed the role of schools in pediatric COVID vaccination efforts and the importance of meeting students’ mental health and academic needs this year.

Cardona said schools had a role to play in the rollout of the COVID vaccine for 5-11 year olds, which got emergency approval last week. But he stressed that medical providers, not schools, should lead education about the importance of the COVID vaccine for younger kids.

“It’s really important that parents have access to medical doctors that can explain a little bit about this and help parents feel comfortable,” he said, pointing to efforts by some superintendents to connect concerned parents directly with pediatricians.

Cardona said schools should work with public health experts to figure out how to approach the next phase of the pandemic, especially since rates of COVID transmission in schools tend to mirror transmission in the community at large.

Some of the outcomes of the pandemic on K-12 schools are obvious: expansion of school choice, online, and homeschool programs, widening achievement gaps among different student groups, and a shortage in teachers and staff that is making it hard for districts to fill positions even when they have enough funding.

In New Hampshire, recently released test scores reveal what many expected: learning loss was real. But Cardona, who served as commissioner of education in Connecticut prior to working for the Biden administration, says he's most concerned with how schools can help address students' declining mental health.

“The social and emotional piece - I don’t want that to be overlooked to get to the academic piece,” he said.

Cardona encouraged schools to take advantage of federal COVID relief funds for many of these efforts. In total, New Hampshire schools have received over $650 million dollars in federal COVID relief funds since the pandemic began.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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