With Cardona as Education Secretary nominee, changes expected in the department

Presidential Transition

WILMINGTON, Del. (NewsNation Now) — President-elect Joe Biden introduced Miguel Cardona as his pick for Secretary of Education on Wednesday.

Cardona is a former teacher and current Connecticut Education Commissioner. If confirmed, he becomes the face and future of our country’s educational system.

This comes in the middle of a school year, where students are largely remote learning, families are dealing with classrooms at home and the future of our educational system is up in the air.

By selecting Cardona as education secretary, President-elect Biden has chosen a Latino, a lifelong educator and an advocate for public schools — all of which makes him a striking contrast to outgoing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (R) speaks as President Donald Trump (L) listens during a parent-teacher conference listening session at the Roosevelt Room of the White House February 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Secretary DeVos has led the Department of Education for all four years of the Trump administration. The product of private schools through college, as secretary, she’s been a fervent advocate for school choice, much to the consternation of public school educators and the unions which represent them.

“She has an obligation to strengthen public schools and help all kids succeed if she’s secretary of education. And she just didn’t believe in it and didn’t operate that way,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.

To the applause of many conservatives and Republican lawmakers, she pushed for education free of interference from Washington, rolling back what was seen as cumbersome Obama-era moves to expand the rights of transgender students, increasing classroom diversity or addressing racial inequities. She has said the K-12 public education system is dysfunctional and broken.

To combat school shootings, Secretary DeVos advocated securing schools better and arming teachers. She also tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to cut the budget of her own department.

During this pandemic, she redirected relief meant for public schools to private and religious schools, while pushing for all schools to reopen. She is also a billionaire.  

Cardona, whose parents were from Puerto Rico, is not exactly cut from the same cloth.

“I was born in the Yale Acres housing projects,” he said. “That’s where my parents, Hector and Sara Cardona, instilled early on the importance of hard work, service to community, and education. I was blessed to attend public schools in my hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, where I was able to expand my horizons, become the first in my family to graduate college, and become a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent in the same community that gave me so much.”

Over the past two decades, Cardona has been a unionized public elementary school teacher, a public school principal, a public school superintendent and most recently the Connecticut State Education Commissioner.

“For me, education was the great equalizer,” Cardona said. “But for too many students, your ZIP code and your skin color remain the best predictor of the opportunities you’ll have in your lifetime.”

A spokesman for the Center for Education Reform, a school choice advocacy group, was cautiously optimistic.

“We hope he will come to embrace fully the notion that such choices for a better life must extend first to the education of our kids,” the group said.

Cardona, who has favored keeping schools open during the pandemic — whether in-person, virtually or a mix — will be expected to shepherd an ambitious, but also expensive agenda as the president-elect outlined.

“That includes funding to keep educators on the job just like we did during the Recovery Act that saved 400,000 education jobs,” President-elect Biden said. “And it includes asking Congress to provide the funding needed so we can achieve an ambitious but doable goal — of safely opening a majority of schools by the end of our first 100 days.”

The president-elect is expected to take a break over the Christmas holidays, leaving open a number of cabinet positions — including that of Attorney General — one of the most important appointments he will make.

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