Biden picks Connecticut schools chief as education secretary

FILE – In this Jan. 28, 2020 file photo, Connecticut State Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona speaks with Berlin High School students while on a tour of the school. President-elect Joe Biden has chosen the education commissioner for Connecticut and a former public school teacher to serve as education secretary. (Devin Leith-Yessian/Berlin Citizen/Record-Journal via AP)

WILMINGTON, Del. | President-elect Joe Biden is set to introduce Miguel Cardona as his pick for education secretary on Wednesday, choosing Connecticut’s education chief and a lifelong champion of public schools to lead the department.

The selection delivers on Biden’s promise to nominate someone with experience working in public education and would fulfill his goal of installing an education chief who stands in sharp contrast to Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Unlike DeVos, a school choice advocate whom Biden says is an opponent of public schools, Cardona is a product of them, starting when he entered kindergarten unable to speak English.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will hold an event with Cardona in Wilmington, Delaware, where he’s expected to speak about his background and hopes for the department.

In announcing his nomination, Biden said Cardona would offer America “an experienced and dedicated public school teacher leading the way at the Department of Education.”

“He will help us address systemic inequities, tackle the mental health crisis in our education system, give educators a well-deserved raise, ease the burden of education debt, and secure high-quality, universal pre-K for every three- and four-year-old in the country,” Biden said in a statement.

Cardona, 45, was raised in a housing project in Meriden, Connecticut, and went through the city’s public schools before returning to work as a fourth-grade teacher in the district in 1998. At age 28, he had become the youngest principal in the state before working his way up to assistant superintendent of the district.

Cardona was appointed to the top education post in Connecticut just months before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March. When schools moved to remote learning, he hurried to deliver more than 100,000 laptops to students across the state. Since then, however, he has increasingly pressed schools to reopen, saying it’s harmful to keep students at home.

If confirmed, his first task will be to expand that effort across the nation. Biden has pledged to have a majority of U.S. schools reopened by the end of his first 100 days in office. He is promising new federal guidelines on school opening decisions, and a “large-scale” Education Department effort to identify and share the best ways to teach during a pandemic.

Cardona’s position on reopening schools has sometimes put him at odds with not only teachers unions, which have called for school buildings to be closed until safety measures are met, but also with some parents who say schools should be ordered to open.

But despite their occasional conflict with him, a coalition of Connecticut education unions supported his candidacy as Biden’s education secretary. Cardona was also backed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has pressed Biden to appoint more Latinos to Cabinet positions.

Beyond the pandemic, Biden’s education secretary will also be tasked with reversing an array of policies enacted by DeVos. Biden has vowed to revoke Trump administration policies including DeVos’ new rules on the handling of campus sexual assault cases, and he promised to restore several Obama-era rules that DeVos revoked or rewrote.

Biden’s education plans also include measures that align with Cardona’s interests. The Democrat has pledged to triple federal Title I funding for the neediest schools and has proposed free preschool as well as policies meant to diversify the nation’s teaching force.

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