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U.S. Education secretary touts public-private partnerships during stop in Pittsburgh

Daniel Tiger Miguel Cardona
Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona reads a book to a class of Pittsburgh Public Schools preschoolers at the Carnegie Science Center.

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, there’s a lot of money available for education right now. But U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona says public school districts must be strategic and innovative to create opportunities for students recovering from two years of disrupted learning.

“We should learn from the last couple of years and really double down on our investment in education and get creative,” he said Wednesday. “Let’s great creative to make sure our schools have enough funds in the long-term to provide good programs for our kids. That’s how our country’s going to move ahead.”

One solution he identified on Wednesday during his annual back-to-school tour was on the second floor of the Sports Works complex at the Carnegie Science Center. A group of 20 preschoolers learn a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum through the center’s exhibits as well as traditional classroom work.

Cardona read to the students, wearing science center lab coats, a book about one of Pittsburgh’s favorite celebrities — Daniel Tiger, the young tiger from Mister Rogers Neighborhood. He was joined by the tiger himself, the district’s superintendent Wayne Walters and philanthropic leaders.

The classroom opened in 2018 thanks to a partnership between the Science center and the Pittsburgh Public Schools district. It’s funded largely by the Heinz Endowments. The district enrolls about 2,000 students in its early childhood programs. The Science Center classroom students are selected through a lottery system.

Cardona applauded the collaboration and emphasized the need for more students to have access to similar programs.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure there’s equity in education and access,” he said. “Just like the federal government, just like the president demonstrated, we need to level up in our education. We need to invest in it.”

Cardona emphasized the Biden administration’s push for increased education funding. Many states like Pennsylvania rely heavily on local property taxes to fund schools – the Commonwealth pays for just under half of what it costs to educate students.

Cardona’s tour across the country is highlighting schools and communities focused on building teacher pipelines and academic recovery.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.