State Education Chiefs Testify at Senate Hearing on Returning to School Safely

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Washington, D.C. (June 10, 2020) – Two state chiefs today testified at the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing “COVID 19: Going Back to School Safely.”

Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska Department of Education commissioner, and Penny Schwinn, Tennessee Department of Education commissioner, discussed the successes and challenges their states and students have faced amid school closures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. School reopening decisions must balance sometimes competing needs of students, families, communities and staff – and student and staff health must be the top priority, they added.

Blomstedt, president elect of the Council of Chief State School Officers board of directors, in written testimony discussed his concerns for specific subgroups of students, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who homeless or involved with detention or foster care systems. Collaboration and cooperation, both within the state and with federal partners, will be essential to address challenges and do what’s best for students, he wrote.   

“I do not believe that, in the midst of this crisis, we should build back to the same systemic inequities that have persisted for years and that are made visible in educational assessment and accountability,” Blomstedt said. “Instead, as has become our mantra in Nebraska, we need to take this opportunity to ‘build back better’.”

In Tennessee, state coordination with school districts, and partnerships with public television stations, higher education, and education technology companies have helped students navigate school closures, Schwinn wrote in prepared testimony. But significant challenges, including achievement gaps, technology needs in rural communities, early literacy skills, and mental health needs, were brought to the forefront amid the crisis and must be addressed, she wrote.

“We must reopen with eyes wide open. We are confident in the innovative spirit of our Tennessee educators and districts to continue accelerating the achievement of all of our children,” Schwinn said. “It matters because it matters for kids.”

See testimony from Blomstedt and Schwinn online.


The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Bureau of Indian Education, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.


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