Biden Picks Connecticut Schools Chief for Education Secretary

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona, the Connecticut schools chief who has advocated for reopening schools amid the coronavirus crisis, as his choice for education secretary, the transition team announced Tuesday.

Biden had committed to selecting someone to lead the Education Department who has been in the classroom, and Cardona began his career as an elementary school teacher before becoming a principal.

“Even as we work to reopen our schools safely and responsibly, we also need to build a public education system that lifts up all Americans, regardless of race, background, or zip code,” Biden said in a statement. “Miguel Cardona is not only an experienced public servant, he is also a former public school teacher and administrator who understands what our students, teachers, and schools need to be successful.”

As a Latino, Cardona helps Biden fulfill a pledge to ensure that his cabinet is diverse.

Cardona is Connecticut’s education commissioner and has been urging schools to reopen during the pandemic, warning that too many students are falling behind as they rely on virtual learning. Biden has pledged that his administration would work to reopen schools during its first 100 days, if Congress funds protective equipment and other measures needed to make schools safer.

Teachers unions in the state have criticized the push for returning to classrooms, arguing that clearer safety criteria are needed. But in a statement before the Cardona announcement, a coalition of unions representing public school employees in the state, said it appreciated Cardona’s “openness and collaboration” during the pandemic and said he would be a positive force for public education.

Cardona has been active in fighting the “digital divide” that leaves millions of low-income students unable to keep up in virtual classrooms. Connecticut officials declared this month that the state was the first in the country to get every child in the state a laptop and wireless Internet.

Advocates have called for $7 billion in aid for similar programs around the country, but that money was left out of the Covid stimulus package passed Monday night.

If Cardona is confirmed, he will face big decisions on how to handle the $1.5 trillion federal student loan portfolio. Progressives and Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to use executive authority to cancel student debt across the board.

Biden has endorsed canceling as much as $10,000 in debt for federal student borrowers in response to the pandemic, although he hasn’t said whether he would use executive authority.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say Biden should go even further by canceling up to $50,000 in debt for borrowers earning less than $125,000. Warren has said debt cancellation is the biggest step Biden could take to stimulate the economy without Congress.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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