United States Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona expressed gratitude to federal education programs for disadvantaged students for playing a pivotal role in leading him to his wife.
During his speech at the University of Kansas on Tuesday, Cardona acknowledged that replicating such success might not be guaranteed for everyone. What he did promise, though, was that the programs, known as TRIO, would continue to do what they were made to do: lift people up through the education system.
“I’m not saying you’re gonna meet your future spouse,” Cardona said. “But without question, it will change your life. You see, TRIO represents the promise of America. The promise that shows us that whatever your race or place, whatever your income or aspirations, you get a chance to build a better future for yourself through education, the great equalizer.”
Lawrence’s event officially kicked off the “Back to School Bus Tour 2023: Raise the Bar,” although Cardona had made stops in Topeka earlier on Tuesday. The event at KU was focused on the 50th anniversary of the Department of Education’s TRIO programs at the university.
“The TRIO program, again, is a strong program [at KU],” Cardona said in an interview after the event. “They understand the importance of education, they understand the value of giving students an earlier start, and they’re committed to it. That’s why I’m here.”
TRIO includes a set of eight federal initiatives aimed at empowering students facing disadvantages. KU is home to several of these programs, including Upward Bound, SES & STEM, Talent Search, and McNair Scholars.
“At its best, education opens doors,” Cardona said. “Sadly, not everyone in our nation can get to the same doors as easily. Some of the doors of opportunity are at the end of broad and brightly lit corridors. But for others it feels like you’d have to go through a dark obstacle course.”
The weeklong tour celebrates efforts to improve education and includes visits to schools, discussions on teacher recruitment, and conversations with parents. After Kansas, the tour will visit Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“I always say, for the last three years we fought hard against COVID; for the next three years, let’s fight just as hard against complacency in education,” Cardona said. It’s on us to show that we won’t be satisfied with education as it was before the pandemic. If we go back to the same systems we had before, we’re failing our students. It’s on us to raise the bar.”
Cardona’s speech in Lawrence centered on goals the presidential administration had for education moving forward, including investing in the health of students, broadening career and education pathways and raising the bar for access and affordability in education.
“For too long, higher education has separated the haves and the have-nots,” Cardona said. “We are committed, not only talking but in action, to fix a broken loan system and to ensure inclusivity in our universities.”
Before Cardona took the stage, the speakers for the event were paraded in with the help of the Marching Jayhawks, Big Jay and Baby Jay.
The first person to take the stage was KU Chancellor Douglas Girod, who spoke about the unique opportunity to have someone of high national standing on campus.
“It’s not every day we get to host somebody who has such an incredible impact on education across our country and really to make meaningful changes to education across our country,” Girod said.
Girod expressed that KU provided a perfect place to start the bus tour because of the university’s strong School of Education and leading special education program.
“Our vision is to educate the leaders of tomorrow and to make discoveries that change the world and we do that across many, many disciplines,” he said. “… I think it’s appropriate that you started right here at the University of Kansas.”
Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis took the stage next, where he began by recognizing school board members in attendance who recently passed the district’s first equity policy.
He also spoke about the Jayhawk Blueprint program, a slate of classes offered at Lawrence high schools that offer dual-track credit for students. The classes are offered at a fraction of the price of normal college classes, and are aided by Lawrence Schools Foundation scholarships to students.
In six years, Lewis said, the program has seen growth of 600%, reaching nearly 2,000 students.
“Through this partnership, KU and Lawrence Public Schools empower high school students to get ahead of their college aspirations and financial futures,” Lewis said.
In an interview after the event, Cardona praised the work of the school district for both their equity policy and dual-track education programs. He discussed work being done at the federal level to encourage those same types of programs.
“What they’re doing is they’re tapping students earlier and giving them opportunities to shine,” Cardona said of USD 497. “They’re giving students college credits in high school to give those students a chance to experience what it’s like to succeed in college.”
For Cardona, the connection between USD 497 and KU is what made Lawrence a desired location for the tour.
“As I said before, if we’re going to raise the bar in education, we have to have our colleges and our K 12 schools talking to each other,” he said.
KU Student Body Vice President DaNae Estabine, a junior psychology and philosophy major, spoke about her connection to Cardona. Both of them came from immigrant families.
Cardona’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico in the 1960s.
“That experience and his bicultural upbringing have helped shaped Secretary Cardona’s passion to serve students,” Estabine said. “… My hope is that after listening to Secretary Cardona’s message today, we can all walk away feeling inspired to consider what actions that we all can take to raise the bar in education.”
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.