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July 15, 2021
What A Day
Back To School with Ed Sec Miguel Cardona

In This Episode

  • U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is traveling across the country this week to discuss how schools and community colleges can help students after they lost out on so much due to the pandemic, and to outline applications for the $122 billion in education funding from the American Rescue Plan. We asked Dr. Cardona about that trip, as well as local PPE enforcement, student loans, classroom curriculum, and more.
  • And in headlines: the arrest of former South African president Jacob Zuma sparked protests, updates on Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed federal decriminalization of marijuana.

 

Transcript

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, July 15th/ I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson in for Akilah Hughes.

 

Gideon Resnick: And this is What A Day where we are warning that Olivia Rodrigo’s White House visit was the first step of a full blown Gen Z takeover of the federal government.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, I can see the next campaign slogan: Classy, Bougie, Ratchet. I’d vote for that person. On today’s show, we’ll have headlines and an in-person interview. So let’s jump right to the latest.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and we’re going to be talking about schools today and how they can reopen safely. Last week, we talked about the new guidelines that the CDC pushed out so that kids could go back into classrooms this fall.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And those recommendations include things like set distances between students and masks for those who are unvaccinated, and so much more. But there are lots of questions on how districts might follow through on those guidelines when vaccines still aren’t approved for children younger than 12, and then the continued politics over masks and vaccines.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yep, that is certainly going to be a thing, Tre’vell, as it has been. But these are only the COVID-related aspects when it comes to fixing the country’s schools. But all of this week, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is on a cross-country trip to visit campuses and to talk about how schools can help students after they lost out on so much this past year. Plus, he’s touting the over 122 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan that schools can actually tap into to help fund what they may need. So for the first time in over a year, I’m not only back in the studio, but I am with Secretary Cardona in person, fully vaxxed—handshakes were had—post the height of the pandemic. I guess we’re going to talk about the reopening process, student loans, classroom curriculum and much more. Secretary Cardona, welcome to WAD.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Happy to be here. Happy to be here.

 

Gideon Resnick: Thank you. Inaugural visit for the space. It’s amazing to actually get to talk to somebody in person. So can you give us a sense of how, you know, set back some children are after more than a year of being outside the classroom?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Definitely. You know, to two important things right there: students who are social by nature were forced to learn in an environment that lacked that social engagement. That’s what we have to attend to when they come back, right? And we know that in some communities, some students were affected more than others. Our work is cut out for us. We know the gaps are worse. We know socialization has to be a bigger part of the experience when they come back. And, you know, we have the American Rescue Plan, we have the Families Plan—we’re rolling up our sleeves, we’re ready to go. We want them back! We want them back.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. And to that end, you know, the CDC is trying to ascertain how exactly to issue guidelines on all these things. Their initial guidelines, you know, include recommendations like keeping children three feet apart. Ultimately, though, the department said it’ll be up to individual districts on which, you know, pieces they want to follow. How did you collaborate with them at all on these guidelines? And generally, what do you think of what they put out?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Sure. First of all, you know, when I was Commissioner of Education in Connecticut, quickly realized it was easier to close schools than it is to reopen them.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m sure.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Some communities have experienced worse effects of COVID, so their fear or their apprehension might be higher. Facilities might be different. They might have older ventilation systems. So one size doesn’t fit all. However, I relied really heavily on the guidance from CDC and my health director in Connecticut. The same is true now. So we’re going to work with CDC guidance to see how that applies to our communities. So I think the guidance is helpful, and what we do is when we get that information, we make it applicable to schools. What does it mean for schools? So it’s a constant process and we’re going to continue to work together.

 

Gideon Resnick: And to that point of it being sort of a process, do you anticipate that there could be any changes that actually happen here? Like is this sort of subject to what the course of the pandemic actually looks like in the next couple of months?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: We’re going to take what we know with science and what the transmission rates are telling us, and we’re going to make decisions based off that, keeping health and safety at the forefront. I think that’s going to continue, you know, but everyone has fatigue, mask fatigue, COVID fatigue.

 

Gideon Resnick: Totally.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: However, we still have to be mindful, you know, the Delta variant we’re watching that—we don’t want that to affect the opening of schools. So let’s follow CDC guidance and let’s make sure we’re keeping health and safety at the forefront of all of our decisions.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and I want to ask also on the vaccine front, vaccines are still not approved for children who are 11 and younger, of course. We actually had a listener, Erin Edmond, send in this question, she said she’s a mom from a southern state and she lives in a county with a current 25% fully vaccinated adult population—so quite low. Her son is finally going back to the classroom next month. His school district is not requiring masks at the moment. He will absolutely be wearing one, but it is likely that he will be in a minority. She was wondering can the Education Department do anything to protect those under 12 students that can’t be vaccinated yet at this point?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: You know, Erin is absolutely right. And it’s unfortunate that there are decisions to be made that are not really based on science. It’s really important, and I think part of this is helping your children understand why they’re doing it, why it’s important to do that. We’re not, we’re not out of the woods yet.

 

Gideon Resnick: Totally. This question of masks, like you said, there’s a mask fatigue, there’s a lot of questions about how this is all going to impact at the local level. We got a lot of those sorts of questions. One of them from Kate Wright Mills, who wanted to say to you, quote, “In New Jersey, many districts made masks optional in elementary schools in June. Leaving it up districts to decide on masks means more will make them optional because of pressure from parents to unmask kids.” And then know here in California, for example, we just saw this sort of flip-flop on the issue this week, at first saying masks are mandatory and then reversing that. So, Secretary, do you think the federal government should have stepped up and taken on the responsibility to say that masks are required no exception, so the teachers and district administrators didn’t have to figure this out on their own?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: You know, it’s one of those deals where and again, this reminds me a lot of last July when we were forced to either decide to reopen schools or not reopen schools. You’re going to make a decision based on what you think is best.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: And not everyone is going to be in favor of it. And there’s going to be a lot of conversation around why it works in some places and it doesn’t work in others. So we’re very careful not to over mandate, but pushing the science, working with states to make sure that they know what the science is telling us, trying to keep politics out of it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right. And this sort of promotion of re-openings, if you will, and the importance of summer programs that are within that, can you tell us a little bit more about how those things are connected right now?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Boys and girls clubs are in the mix. YMCAs are in the mix. It’s almost like a camp. And yes, there’s learning going on and there’s socialization, but most importantly, our students are getting ready for the fall. They’re around each other again. They’re feeling comfortable. It’s a good way for a community to kind of recover, to get ready for the reopening of schools. Today, I saw students having mentors teaching them basketball. You know, they were TikTok dancing, which is like a new sport now, I guess.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right, right. Not in the Olympics yet, but one day.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Yeah, we’ll get there—and just engaging. What I saw today was community members coming together to say these are our kids.

 

Gideon Resnick: And something else, I mean, there are so many issues that are embedded in this entire conversation but both kids and parents needed mental health resources during the past year as well. They need a lot of them. But in 2019, even before the pandemic, the American School Counselor Association estimated that on average there was one school counselor for every 455 students. So what is within your power realistically to reverse that kind of long institutional issue?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: If we’re not reimagining how our schools are meeting the needs of our students from a social and emotional perspective, we’re not going to help the students post-pandemic. So the American Rescue Plan provides $130 billion, $81 billion of that was already released and we’re working on the other 40, to make sure that the social and emotional supports that students need, looks different. And I don’t mean another five minutes with the school counselor once a week. I mean, making sure we have enough staff, that we have wraparound services, programing after school—it really needs to be baked into the DNA of our schools a lot more than it is now. But I think what I don’t want missed here is that the President has put out a transformational agenda around education. So we have a moment here as educators to really lift the bar, raise the bar, and lift the expectations for everyone. So we have to act boldly to make sure that we don’t become complacent and go back to what it was March 2020. I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited when I talk to educators across the country, when I talk to students—this is the beginning of a new era in education. I’m excited to be a part of it.

 

Gideon Resnick: Right, right. I want to shift gears for a second to another set of questions that I was getting quite a lot of. Last month you mentioned that it’s possible there could be further deferments in student loan payments. Where does that stand now, and where are things at the moment in terms of full-on cancelation? My understanding was there was a conversation with the President about what legal authority could exist on that.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Yeah, and that’s where that is. Our attorneys are working with DOJ attorneys and the White House to kind of answer that. And there hasn’t been a resolution on that yet. But what I will say is that this is not just an event. We have to do better at the Department of Education to support our borrowers, to make sure that the decisions that we can control, we’re doing better. We’ve provided over $3 billion in relief for students who are, who had loans. We’ve relieve those debts already. And we’re looking for opportunities where we feel either institutions have taken advantage of students, or not kept up their end of the bargain—we’re going to we’re going to work to cancel those loans. So we are cognizant of it. Believe me. It’s part of my goal, not only now, but throughout my time as Secretary of Education to make sure we’re doing as much for our borrowers and for our higher-ed students as we are for our K-12 students.

 

Gideon Resnick: Next time you’re back in here, we’re going to make some news on it and try to [laughs] get the, the full answer on the cancelations.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: We’re having those conversations. And, you know, believe me, I wish I could, because I know so many are asking, too, and we are having those conversations. But, but I recognize how important it is for everyone.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I understand. This question about curricula that is seemingly everywhere right now. So many states have either banned or they’re working to ban what they’re referring to as the teaching of critical race theory, depending on where you are. Tomorrow, actually, on our show, we’re going to hear from two educators about what they think of this issue. And the federal government obviously does not control what states and districts are going to be teaching, but on a base level, what is your reaction to some lawmakers trying to control and effectively police in some ways what teachers can even include in the lesson plans they put forward?

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Listen. We got educators educate. I trust my educators. I trust my leaders to understand how to make sure that the curriculum that is in front of students is engaging to all students, that it shows as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop said: windows and mirrors into other cultures. Right? Where you could see yourself and then windows into other cultures. But what I’ve seen happen is the politicizing of it. And that’s unfortunate. Let our educators make the decisions on what’s to be taught. Let’s have confidence in them.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I hope that really is the case. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Education Secretary, thank you so much again for joining WAD today. Really appreciate it.

 

Ed. Sec. Miguel Cardona: Happy to be here. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak between two friends here. I love the background: the White House. You got it going on here. I love, I love the setup! Thanks for having me.

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Thank you so much for being here. And we are going to continue to follow how school re-openings go and hope to talk with the Secretary again later this fall about all that. But that is the latest for now.

 

It’s Thursday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about the latest in celebrity entrepreneurship: America’s Next Top Model creator, Tyra Banks, has opened up an ice cream shop in Santa Monica, California, called Smize Cream, which is named after her signature advanced modeling technique that means “smiling with your eyes” for those who may be uninitiated here. For Banks, the shop is about more than just dessert. She described it in an interview yesterday as a step towards building a legacy like that of Walt Disney. OK. And in that spirit, her ice cream store has its own intricate lore as well, complete with a fictional spokesperson. She is an elderly woman named DJ Splitz, who is described in promotional material as the world’s coolest grandma. DJ Splitz has her own Instagram account and fictional grandchildren. And she and Tyra refer to each other in social media comments as, quote “business partners.” Smize Cream is near the site of Model Land, Banks’s model-themed amusement park that was supposed to open last year but got delayed by COVID. That is clearly another part of Banks’s Walt Disney master plan. So Tre-vell, my question is, what is your take on this newest entry in the field of celebrity ice cream?

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Well, let me first start by saying I am someone who loves Tyra Banks. I grew up on Top Model. That is my type of stuff. However, why do these celebrities have just so much time on their hands to come up with something like Smize Cream? Also Smize Cream sounds like it should probably be an eye cream and not ice cream. But, you know, I don’t have the coins that she has. So what do I know?

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I completely agree that I’m a little bit confused by, like, the name on first reference would not sound like an edible product. I completely agree. I’m deeply interested in this lore, though, and what sort of like expanded Smize Cream universe there could be here.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: [laughs] are you really though, Gideon?

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I mean, why not? [laughs] You know, like you said, Banks does not have, like she has a lot of time on her hands, a lot of energy. This could be something, you know, that really like pans out into something deeply fascinating. Like it’s time to get into a new thing, you know, why not? Why not? D.J. Splitz?

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I’d like to be removed from this narrative. Thank you so much.

 

Gideon Resnick: [laughs] Well, just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe, if you’re going to enter into business with a grandma, make it DJ Splitz, and we’ll be back after some ads.

 

[ad break]

 

Gideon Resnick:  Let’s wrap up with some headlines.

 

[sung] Headlines.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: South Africa is experiencing widespread unrest following the detention of former president Jacob Zuma. Zuma was arrested last week for refusing to attend a corruption inquiry into his nine years of presidency. His arrest sparked protests by his supporters, which quickly grew into widespread unrest fueled by high unemployment and an economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. 72 people are confirmed dead from the unrest so far. Economic recovery in the country has been stunted by a third wave of COVID surges, pushing even more of the already struggling population under the poverty line. Currently, over half of the population is living in poverty. South Africa’s current president spoke earlier this week saying that the unrest reveals what they already knew, that the levels of inequality in their society is unsustainable.

 

Gideon Resnick: President Biden met with Senate Democrats yesterday after they agreed on a $3.5 trillion infrastructure deal earlier this week. $600 billion of the plan is going to go toward spending on new physical infrastructure. The measure also includes Biden’s priorities that are not covered by a bipartisan proposal, such as child care, health care, education and climate change. Democrats are hoping to pass this bill in the Senate through reconciliation, meaning they won’t need any Republican votes for it to pass. They, however, do need all 50 Democrats in the Senate to agree on the proposal for that process to work. And funding for the bill is going to come from tax increases for the richest Americans and businesses while prohibiting those increases for people making 400,000 or less a year, small businesses and family farms as well. They’re hoping to move forward with this bill before lawmakers leave for August recess.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Happy Nonbinary Awareness week to all WAD thudes! That word is a mix, apparently, of THEY and DUDE, and they tell me it’s a delightfully inclusive way to refer to your friends if you weren’t aware, like me. Data from UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 1.2 million or 11% of LGBTQ adults in the U.S. identify as nonbinary, with that number expected to grow. A new study from the Trevor Project determined that one quarter of LGBT youths between the age of 13 and 24 identify as nonbinary. Half of the youths who identify as nonbinary, also identify as transgender, which underscores the importance of trans representation. Shout out to Mj Rodriguez right now, who was nominated for a lead drama actress Emmy this week for her role in Pose. Who cares for it was the third season—it should have been for the first, but that’s fine—making her the first transgender performer to receive an Emmy nom in a major acting category. Studies showing how common it is to identify as nonbinary come at a crucial time, since many state lawmakers are passing anti-trans and nonbinary youth legislation and blocking inclusive sex education in schools.

 

Gideon Resnick: That is the truth. She is also amazing in that Little Shop of Horrors production in Pasadena. How about that?

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yes.

 

Gideon Resnick: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has always given off the mellow vibe of a grandpa who fell asleep on the couch after dinner, and now he wants us to experience that state of mind. He proposed legislation yesterday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The bill would also implement federal taxes on the pot industry, which did close to 20 billion in sales during 2020, in a year when we were extremely focused on maintaining lung health, but also we couldn’t leave our homes and TV really did start to get boring. Of course, the war on drugs has had devastating effects on poor communities and communities of color. So Schumer’s proposal has a restorative element here as well. It would expunge nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions from federal records, and earmark tax revenue for programs that would benefit affected communities. The passage of Schumer’s draft bill is highly unlikely, with the filibuster intact—need we say it again? It would require the support of 10 Republican senators, plus all 50 Democrats. Schumer has admitted that he doesn’t have the support of his entire caucus even.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Sounds like to me he needs to get to working, get to recruiting!

 

Gideon Resnick: Yeah, let’s go, grandpa. And those are the headlines. That is all for today, if you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, fall asleep on the couch after dinner, and tell your friends to listen.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading, and not just deep and intricate back story of fictional Smize Cream co-founder DJ Splitz like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.

 

Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.

 

[together] And protect DJ Splitz!

 

Gideon Resnick: She is an older woman, you know, got a mask up and make sure she’s safe.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. Respect your elders.

 

Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.

 

Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.

 

Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.

 

What A Day