Education secretary after Texas school shooting: ‘We need action’
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona pleaded for urgent action from lawmakers to address school safety in the United States after a Texas elementary school shooting left 19 students and two teachers dead earlier this week.
“Educators across the country have and would give their lives to protect children but, damn it, that’s not enough,” Cardona said. “We need action.”
Cardona told a House panel Thursday that steps were being taken to fortify U.S. schools, including active shooter training, online surveillance, law enforcement coordination and securing entrances and perimeters. But he said those measures are “no match for what we’re up against.”
Cardona was appearing for a House hearing for the Education Department’s 2023 budget proposal. The federal government was already planning to double the number of school counselors, nurses and mental health professionals in K-12 schools with a $1 billion investment through the Department of Education, amid mounting calls to address student mental health.
The secretary said students around the country were struggling with worsening depression and anxiety as a result of the pandemic, challenging lawmakers to work together to protect children.
The shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the worst mass school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012, has reignited the debate over how to best address gun violence in schools.
The need for mental health services in schools and elsewhere has been magnified by the pandemic, with psychologists in 2021 reporting a “large increase” in requests for treatment of depression and anxiety, according to a survey from the American Psychological Association.
Democratic representatives applauded the increase in funding for mental health support but continued to push for more dramatic action to address the violence in schools.
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) pointed to a 2013 law in Connecticut that banned some weapons and mandated background checks for gun purchases in the state after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, which left 26 students and staff dead.
“It showed that when people tried to absorb what happened there, they did say enough is enough,” Courtney said at the hearing. “Hopefully, we’ll see that happen in the wake of Uvalde.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) called the shooting a “heartbreaking and horrific tragedy” but said the government should be careful in the way it responds.
“We must be thoughtful about how we discuss and handle school safety and mental health issues,” Foxx said. “Federal changes should not be made in haste and there’s still many details we do not know.”
The Education Department’s budget request of $88.3 billion would be a 20 percent increase over 2021, which also sparked opposition from some Republican members.
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) blasted the spending increase, saying inflation in the country was a product of rampant government overspending and questioned the responsibility of increasing education spending.
“I think there should be almost unanimous agreement that (inflation is) primarily out of control because of excessive spending,” Grothman said. “Do you feel it is responsible for the president to, in his proposal, increase Department of Education funding by 20.9 percent?”
Cardona responded by saying supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine were contributing significantly to inflation and argued the budget request was justified because of “decades of underinvestment in education.”