ROYAL OAK, MI – First Lady Jill Biden said making two years of community college free for all students will help the U.S. economy turn around and raise a generation of young Americans.
Biden and US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Oakland Community College on Friday for the final leg of a Midwestern tour focused on schools reverting to in-person learning. The first lady also promoted the free community college and preschool proposals in the president’s $ 3.5 trillion economic stimulus package, which faces key votes in Congress.
Biden, who teaches community college classes in addition to her duties as first lady, said the administration was doing everything possible to keep schools safe and open.
âEducators, you know, we’ve done our best with virtual learning, but there are some things that you just can’t reproduce through a screen,â Biden said. “That’s why I’m so happy to be back in class in person, isn’t it?” “
As Michigan schools take different approaches to requiring masks and encouraging vaccinations, an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks was recorded in the weeks after students returned to class.
Related: Coronavirus data from Friday, September 24: Teens account for biggest increase in COVID cases in Michigan
The Department of Education recommends that schools encourage vaccinations among eligible staff and students, require masks to be worn in environments where not everyone can be vaccinated, and implement COVID-19 testing. These recommendations cause tensions in some communities when implemented, despite the discovery of new epidemics in schools.
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The first lady said community colleges provide vital opportunities for people who want to improve their lives but cannot attend traditional universities. Community colleges are a cheaper and more flexible alternative, Biden said, and provide access to training for skilled positions in manufacturing and high-tech industries facing labor shortages in Michigan.
âNew jobs require new skills, and you see it right here in Michigan,â Biden said. “Kindergarten to grade 12 education is simply not enough to be competitive in a 21st century economy.”
Cardona said the cost of student loans makes universities a “no-beginner” for many students, preventing them from earning more in jobs requiring a degree. The education secretary said that free community colleges help black and brown students who may not have access to education and college planning compared to their white peers.
Cardona said America’s future economic prosperity will depend on community colleges.
âWe know that when we provide a free community college for everyone, it can serve as the foundation or growth of a country,â Cardona said. âWe need to get a free community college for every student. “
Cardona follows Michigan native Betsy DeVos in overseeing the Department of Education. DeVos was a strong supporter of a return to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and opposed mask warrants in schools, saying the decision should be left to parents.
Michigan exceeded one million cases of coronavirus this week. The state tends to be below the national average of cases per 100,000 population, but has seen a 45% increase in new cases in the past two weeks. The weekly average of new cases has steadily increased since July.
Children aged 10 to 19 account for the largest increase in weekly cases (27%), as well as the highest average daily case rate per capita (386.7 cases per million people) . The epidemics are partly linked to the return to school in early September.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 228 active outbreaks in schools this week. New outbreaks have been identified in 36 counties.
The MDHHS strongly recommends universal masking for students, staff, and teachers, but the state has not required it. Instead, the decision was left to local health departments, resulting in a patchwork of rules across the state.
Related: The Great Mask Debate: Michigan Schools Stuck Between Changing Directions, Safety and Parents’ Opinions
Pamela Pugh, vice president of the Michigan Board of Education and former public health official in Saginaw County, implored the state to take the lead in mask warrants. Pugh said the lack of a statewide standard was “quite troubling” in a letter to the state’s health director.
The Democratic majority on the education council voted in favor of a statement supporting the ability of local school districts to “make scientifically informed decisions, including mask mandates.” Republican members have failed to garner support for another resolution discouraging schools from demanding masks.
Parents outraged by mask rules and activists who staged opposition to pandemic health rules over the past year protested the warrants at school board and local government meetings this summer. Critics of the mask rules argue that they are uncomfortable and cause unnecessary stress for children.
Sometimes tensions escalated into threats of violence against health workers and government officials.
Related: ‘I need help’: Kent County’s top health official advises commissioners after threats and road rage against COVID-19 response
Schools are expected to receive a boon of federal funding after the passage of pandemic relief. The US bailout is providing more than $ 130 billion in K-12 emergency aid funds to support the return to in-person learning. The funds can be used to improve ventilation systems, encourage vaccinations, perform testing and tracing contacts, and meet the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of students.
Forty-two percent of Michigan’s 16 to 19 year-olds are fully immunized by Tuesday, September 14. Just under 35% of children aged 12 to 15 have completed the vaccination. Vaccines have not been approved for students under the age of 12.
Oakland County, the site of Friday’s visit, has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, with 68% of residents fully immunized. The rate is 83% for people 65 and over and 55% for people under 20.
The Republican National Committee criticized the Biden administration’s approach to COVID-19 guidance in a statement.
“After siding with the teachers’ union to keep schools closed and use children to distract Americans from the ongoing crises of the Biden administration, the Michiganders will not give Jill Biden and Miguel Cardona a pass for being a month too late to welcome their children to school. RNC spokesman Preya Samsundar said in a statement.
The âBack to School Road Tripâ began this week and featured Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The Department of Education also hosted four events across Michigan.
For more statewide data, visit MLive’s coronavirus data page, here. To find a testing site near you, check out the state’s online test finder, here, email [email protected], or call 888-535-6136 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
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