(CN) — President-elect Joe Biden nominated Connecticut’s education chief Miguel Cardona to lead the U.S. Department of Education, maintaining a commitment to a diverse cabinet while tapping someone who pushed to keep schools open amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The nominee also fulfills Biden’s campaign promise to nominate someone with experience in public schools, signaling a departure from the policies of Trump pick Betsy Devos, an advocate of school choice and charter schools.
“In Miguel Cardona, America will have an experienced and dedicated public school teacher leading the way at the Department of Education — ensuring that every student is equipped to thrive in the economy of the future, that every educator has the resources they need to do their jobs with dignity and success, and that every school is on track to reopen safely,” Biden said in a statement released Tuesday.
Cardona spent his entire career in public schools in Connecticut, beginning as an elementary school teacher before rising to principal, district administrator, assistant superintendent. He was named the head of Connecticut’s public school system in 2019 by Governor Ned Lamont.
In Connecticut, about 70% of the state’s public schools opened for students this fall and when some of them decided to close in-person learning during November, Cardona and other state officials sent an email that said the department did not believe “arbitrary, date-based closures of school are warranted at this time.”
If confirmed, Cardona will have a heavy lift, as the coronavirus has exacerbated education inequities for an entire generation of students. Wealthier families have been able to provide resources to make sure their children thrive during distance learning, while lower-income families have not had access to similar resources and in some cases lack all-important internet access.
School districts themselves will grapple with budget cuts due to pandemic-induced state budget deficits while also having to make significant capital outlays to make classrooms safer for in-person learning. Universities and colleges have also incurred losses as they have had to forfeit money from foreign students that often pay exorbitant sums to attend American universities.
Lamont said Cardona is up to the task, calling him “a superstar.”
“That’s a loss for Connecticut, but it’s a big win for kids and teachers, and education around the country,” said the governor during a press conference. “We’re fortunate that Miguel was able to take the lead here in the state for close to two years, fortunate that he worked very closely with teachers [and] kept our schools open.”
Reopening schools is a declared priority for Biden, who has promised to open as many as possible in the first 100 days of his presidency.
“It should be a national priority to get our kids back into school and keep them in school,” Biden said. “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.”
Biden also named six more senior White House staff, which include several names that have persisted in the Biden orbit since his time as vice president in the Barack Obama White House.
Vinay Reddy, chief speechwriter for Biden during Obama’s second term, will serve in the same role in the White House. He also wrote speeches for Biden during the campaign.
The president-elect named Bruce Reed as deputy chief of staff. Reed has been a longtime ally and adviser to Biden, serving as his chief of staff from 2011 to 2013. He was a target of progressive groups recently due to his past stances on cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Progressive groups are likely to be more pleased by the appointment of Gautam Raghavan as deputy director of the office of presidential personnel. Formerly the chief of staff to Washington state congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Raghavan also worked as a liaison to the LGTBQ community in the Obama administration, among other positions.
Elizabeth Wilkins will be the senior adviser to the chief of staff. Ryan Montaya will serve as the director of scheduling and advance. Anne Filipic was appointed as the director of office and management, after having worked for the Obama Foundation and served on Biden’s campaign.
“These experienced individuals are joining my administration to carry out policies that will put our nation on a path to building back better than ever before,” Biden said in a statement released Tuesday.
Cardona must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, while the other six positions are entirely at the discretion of the president-elect.