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Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Miguel Cardona, education commissioner in Connecticut, has accepted President-elect Joe Biden's offer to serve as secretary of the Department of Education, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Cardona will be responsible for leading a reopening of the country's schools, which Biden has pledged to do within his first 100 days as president if Congress helps with financial support.

The big picture: The safe reopening of schools during the pandemic is an urgent issue 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.

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.

Go deeper

Chicago teachers union votes against returning to classrooms

Chicago teachers prepare to teach their students remotely. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Chicago Teachers Union voted against returning to in-person learning despite the district's plan for K-8 students to return to classrooms on Feb 1, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: District officials have said that the union's decision to disobey the order to return to schools would violate the union’s collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits union members from striking. Union officials, however, say that teachers retuning to schools without being vaccinated would put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Major companies vow to train, hire Afghan refugees arriving in U.S.

Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya. Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Global Citizen

More than 30 major companies have promised to hire and train Afghan refugees coming to the U.S., per a press release from the Tent Partnership for Refugees, the group spearheading the effort.

The big picture: The 33 companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Pfizer and UPS, are joining the Tent Coalition for Afghan Refugees, a coalition founded by Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and CEO of yogurt and food company Chobani.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Gracias, México, for color TVs

The patent diagram (left) from Guillermo González Camarena's chromoscopic adapter, and he and the engineer (right inspecting TV equipment around 1955 in Mexico City. Photos: U.S. Patent Office and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia de México

Credit Mexican engineering and entrepreneurship for developments that led to the in color television, oral contraception and finding a way to help mend the ozone layer.

Why it matters: The contributions helped modernize how we could see the world; improve women's health and expand women's roles beyond the home; and identify dangerous emissions and how to reduce them.