Biden picks Connecticut schools chief for secretary of education

By Jennifer Epstein and Andrew Kreighbaum Bloomberg News, Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Miguel Cardona, the Connecticut schools chief who has advocated for reopening schools amid the coronavirus crisis, as his pick for secretary of education, a person familiar with the matter said.

Biden had committed to choosing 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. Cardona is currently 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 will work to reopen schools during its first 100 days, if Congress funds protective equipment and other measures needed to make schools safer. The Biden transition declined to comment.

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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 pick’s 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-19 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 up to $10,000 in debt for federal student borrowers in response to the pandemic, although he hasn’t said whether he would use executive authority. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren 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. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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