Dec 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Miguel Cardona emerges as Biden's choice to open schools

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden holds a mask in his hand as he joins Former U.S. Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden in a classroom

Photo: DNCC via Getty Images

Joe Biden is leaning toward nominating Miguel Cardona, education commissioner in Connecticut, to serve as secretary of the Department of Education and lead a reopening of the country's schools, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Cardona, who has focused on reopening schools in his home state, emerged as the president-elect leaned away from another potential candidate, Leslie Fenwick, dean emeritus at Howard University, and two teacher's union candidates. A final decision has not been made.

The big picture: Biden has pledged to reopen the majority of U.S. schools within his first 100 days as president if Congress helps with financial support. It's urgent as parents and educators fear losing a generation of scholars due to coronavirus shutdowns that sent children to remote learning.

  • There have been broad inequities in this digital environment, spurring a movement to get kids back in classrooms and to secure the health of teachers who must stand before them.
  • “In-person education is too important for our children to disrupt their education further, unless and until local conditions specifically dictate the need to do so,” Cardona and the acting public health commissioner wrote to school superintendents last month, according to the Hartford Courant.
  • A Biden transition spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden moved toward Cardona after initially considering two high-profile representatives of the two largest teachers' unions: Lily Eskelsen Garcia, former president of the National Education Association, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

  • In picking neither, Biden appears to have sidestepped any sibling rivalry between the NEA and AFT.

Zoom in: In addition to reopening schools, the next education secretary will face calls to take administrative action to cancel $1.7 trillion in student debt, a key priority for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

  • During the campaign, Biden supported legislation to forgive borrowers' first $10,000 in student loans. He has been noncommittal about canceling student debt by administrative fiat, a move pushed by the left.
  • Democrats also feel a great sense of urgency to repeal educational changes made by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, both in K-12 and Title IX regulations on sexual assault cases.

Flashback: Biden promised during the campaign he would select a “teacher” to replace DeVos.

  • Cardona, who grew up in public housing, began his career as an elementary school teacher, according to the Hartford Courant.

Between the lines: After initially supporting the NEA's Garcia for the job, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is now also backing Cardona, noting he started school speaking only Spanish.

  • “Mr. Cardona fully grasps the challenges that English as Second Language (ESL) Learners, Latinos and other minority students face in America’s classrooms,” CHC members wrote in a letter to Biden.

The bottom line: Cardona would be the third Hispanic nominated to Biden’s Cabinet, after the president-elect named Alejandro Mayorkas to run Homeland Security and Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Biden still faces pressure to name a female Hispanic to his Cabinet, with the CHC pressing him to select Stacie Olivares, who serves on the board of administration for California's teachers' union pension, to run the Small Business Administration.
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