Senate confirms Miguel Cardona as Biden’s education secretary

WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Miguel Cardona as President Joe Biden’s education secretary Monday.

Cardona, confirmed in a 64-33 vote, will oversee an Education Department that employs thousands and has an annual budget of more than $60 billion. He would also oversee the agency’s $1.5 trillion student loan portfolio.

He takes the helm of American schooling at a fraught time as many schools have kept their doors closed to in-person teaching as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Debates about reopening K-12 classrooms have pitted teachers, administrators, school boards and parents against each other. Colleges are bleeding money. Student debt is mounting. Learners are struggling to keep up with classes online.

Cardona, the commissioner of education in Connecticut, will lead Biden’s push to reopen the majority of K-8 public schools in the first 100 days of his administration. The administration and congressional Democrats are pushing for $130 billion to help make it happen in the coronavirus relief package making its way through Congress.

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At his confirmation hearing Feb. 3, Cardona said schools can reopen safely without all teachers being vaccinated against COVID-19, a sentiment echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There is no substitute for a classroom experience for our students,” Cardona said during the hearing, adding that he’d bring a “mentality of partnership and clear communication to help recover our public education and reopen our schools.”

Cardona, 45, won praise from Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions during his confirmation hearings.

Under President Donald Trump, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos emerged as an especially high-profile – and controversial – member of the administration. DeVos, who polled as the least popular member of his Cabinet, supported school choice and guns in school and opposed many proposals for student loan relief.

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Cardona has vowed to undo many of the policies DeVos put in place. Those include DeVos’ stricter rules for investigations of sexual misconduct at schools and colleges, plus her looser guidelines benefiting for-profit colleges.

Cardona has emphasized a focus on civil rights and LGBTQ students. He stressed the legal rights of transgender children when pressed during his confirmation hearing.

Education secretaries are limited in their power because of the long history of local control in the U.S. Most of the policies and practices in public schools, where about 90% of children receive an education, are determined by school boards, state lawmakers and state departments of education.

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Contributing: Joey Garrison, Erin Richards, Chris Quintana USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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