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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks with Beverly Hills Middle School students. Photo: Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group/Daily Times via Getty Images

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is taking a bus tour across the Midwest seeking to reassure parents and teachers as safety measures surrounding the pandemic in schools continue to be a political flashpoint.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is grappling with how to maintain in-classroom learning while controlling the spread of COVID-19 in schools. Cases largely involving the Delta variant are surging, and some governors have blocked local districts from mandating masks.

  • Most students across the country are returning to school in person after the pandemic, but those under 12 remain ineligible to be vaccinated.

The details: The secretary will visit five states in the Midwest beginning Sept. 20, stopping at 10 schools and universities over four days.

  • The destinations include Eau Claire, Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Palatine and Chicago, Illinois; Kendallville, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio; and Mt. Pleasant, Lansing, Detroit and Canton, Michigan, according to a release shared with Axios.
  • The secretary will visit students from preschool through college age.

What they're saying: “The return to school this year is more special than ever, after many of our nation’s students have been disconnected from their peers, educators, classrooms, school communities and learning routines for over a year," Cardona said in a statement.

The backdrop: Cardona has waded into the debate over mask-wearing in schools, and the Department of Education has launched investigations into the mask-mandate bans in several states, including Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

  • The department will use a component of the law that protects students with disabilities from discrimination and entitles all to a free public education.
  • "The president is appalled, as I am, that there are adults who are blind to their blindness, that there are people who are putting policies in place that are putting students and staff at risk," Cardona told the Times.

Go deeper

More campus COVID mandates at OSU

Students and medical workers line up to take a bus on the Ohio State University campus. Photo: Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Several COVID requirements at Ohio State go into effect this week and next, including mandated vaccines and testing.

Why it matters: These efforts are meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on a crowded campus with tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff, many of which are traveling for fall break

"Nation's Report Card" finds reading, math test scores falling pre-COVID

Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Test scores in both reading and math declined for 13-year-old students between 2012 and 2020, according to new data released Thursday from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

Why it matters: It's the first major decline in the two subjects since the NAEP began tracking long-term academic achievement trends in the 1970s.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
8 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Key clean power provision likely won't survive in Dems' spending bill

A construction worker walks along a dirt road at the Avangrid Renewables La Joya wind farm in Encino, New Mexico, on Aug. 5, 2020. Photo: Cate Dingley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A pillar of Democrats' plans to speed deployment of zero-carbon electricity is likely to be cut from major spending and tax legislation they are struggling to move on a party-line vote, per multiple reports and a Capitol Hill aide.

Driving the news: The New York Times, citing anonymous congressional aides and lobbyists, reports that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) has told the White House he "strongly opposes" the Clean Electricity Performance Program.