Biden’s education department might support school choice
Education | Charter school and voucher advocates face a hopeful but uncertain future
by Esther Eaton
Posted 1/13/21, 02:06 pm
In a reversal of the Trump administration’s education policies, President-elect Joe Biden has promised student debt forgiveness, tuition cuts, and changes to Title IX regulations about sexual assault reports and investigations on college campuses. Biden opposes private school vouchers, and he reportedly considered teachers’ union leaders, who would likely be hostile to school choice, for education secretary.
Instead, Biden nominated Miguel Cardona, a longtime educator from Connecticut. Born to Puerto Rican parents in public housing, Cardona entered kindergarten speaking only Spanish, attended a technical high school for automotive studies, and was the first person in his family to graduate from college, the CT Mirror reported. He taught fourth grade in the same public school district he attended and became the state’s youngest principal at 28. He has served as the state education commissioner since 2019. His position kept him out of national education debates, making him a bit of an unknown in many areas, but the nomination has left school-choice advocates hopeful.
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supported charter schools, reversed Obama-era affirmative action policies, and pushed for free speech on college campuses. For that, she drew ire from much of the education establishment. When she resigned last week in response to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a two-word statement: “Good riddance.”
Cardona’s track record suggests he would focus on improving academic outcomes for minority and low-income students. As an assistant superintendent, Cardona took new teachers on tours of students’ neighborhoods to help them understand economic and racial differences, the CT Mirror reported. He has said getting more high school students to take college-level classes would help more students access higher education. He supports universal preschool and favored a Connecticut law requiring public high schools to use a history curriculum focused on African American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino contributions to U.S. history.
Cardona has a shorter record on school choice. He spoke positively of charter schools during his confirmation hearings for the state commissioner post. No new charter schools requested authorization during his time as Connecticut education commissioner, but he approved every charter due for renewal. When he placed three on probation for failing to improve their discipline records, he said, “We want to support you so that you can get to the great work of helping kids. You have to commit to that partnership if you’re a public school, and you are.” As education secretary, Cardona would have authority over whether to fund a voucher program in the District of Columbia and the distribution of hundreds of millions in grants for new charter schools.
Biden wants most schools that closed during the pandemic to reopen during his first 100 days in office. While Cardona made crucial decisions to enable remote learning in Connecticut early in the pandemic, he urged districts to return quickly to in-person instruction while allowing them to make their own decisions. He used federal aid to buy masks, plexiglass, and other safety equipment and emphasized data suggesting the coronavirus wasn’t spreading through Connecticut schools. In December, about one-third of the state’s public school students had the option to attend in-person.
School choice advocates have adopted a wait-and-see approach. “He doesn’t seem to be hostile towards some school choice,” said Jamison Coppola of the American Association of Christian Schools. “Now, whether he’ll work to advance that, that remains to be seen.”
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