President-elect Joe Biden is expected to tap Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona as his Education secretary, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets, bringing in a longtime elementary school teacher and principal to helm the department during a tumultuous time for America’s schools.
Cardona, who in 2019 began serving as the state’s commissioner, was the first Latino to hold the position, according to the Connecticut Mirror. Previously, he was an elementary school principal and a fourth-grade teacher in Meriden, Connecticut.
He also served as an adjunct professor in a University of Connecticut education and leadership program, and he was a co-chair of the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force, according to his official biography.
He will be a relative newcomer to Washington and the national education debate, in contrast to outgoing Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been a leading voice among advocates for for-profit colleges and taxpayer-backed private schooling.
Biden had not made an official announcement on Tuesday, but Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., praised the choice, tweeting late Monday night that “my friend Miguel Cardona is everything you would want in a Secretary of Education. A classroom teacher, a fighter for educational equity, a consensus builder. He has risen quickly through the ranks for a reason.”
Cardona was endorsed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a December 18 letter to Biden. They said “it is clear that Mr. Cardona’s record of accomplishments demonstrates that he is capable and qualified to lead the Department of Education. Further, as a Puerto Rican leader he will bring a valued and diverse voice to the Cabinet.”
If confirmed, he’ll join a cabinet which Biden has pledged will “look like America.” Cardona was born in public housing and entered kindergarten only speaking Spanish, according to the Connecticut Mirror. As education commissioner, he’s made bilingual education a priority.
Cardona will be tasked with executing Biden’s vision for education policy, which will undoubtedly take a sharp turn from the policies endorsed by DeVos.
In the short term, Biden has called to safely open K-12 schools amid a raging pandemic, a goal he hopes to accomplish within his first 100 days.
“It should be a national priority to get our kids back into school and keep them in school,” Biden said at a transition event earlier this month. “If Congress provides the funding, we need to protect students, educators and staff. If states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”
When the pandemic first shuttered schools in March, Cardona said vulnerable students would face the greatest losses. He has advocated keeping schools open to the extent possible in a state where districts determine whether or not schools open or close.
“We recognize that, in many cases, having to go remote is needed, and we’re not certainly against that. But … we’ve learned that the first several months of school have been positive for so many of our students who have had the opportunity to go in,” Cardona said in November, according to the Connecticut Mirror. "The idea of having local control, I still stand behind that 100 percent."
Under Cardona, the state department of education published data tracking attendance, learning models, and COVID-19 cases in school districts across the state. The data demonstrates that infections are happening mostly outside of school buildings, the state says.
If confirmed, Cardona will also pursue policies that support Biden's long-term plan for American education.
Biden has pledged to increase teacher pay and help teachers pay off their student loans. He wants to increase elementary and secondary school school resources, including nurses, psychologists and social workers.
He also wants to expand access to preschool and offer tax credits to help families pay for child care.
Some of Biden’s most sweeping proposed changes come at the higher education level to reduce inequality and broaden the middle class: He aims to make tuition free at community colleges for all students and at four-year public universities for students with family incomes below $125,000.
He wants to restore Obama-era civil rights guidelines that were rescinded during the Trump administration, including rules to protect students defrauded by shuttered for-profit institutions.
Biden has also endorsed canceling up to $10,000 in student debt per borrower, but is facing pressure from the left to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower via executive order.
Education is an issue close to Biden. Future first lady Jill Biden, a longtime community college professor, plans to continue teaching while in office.