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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Biden and Miguel Cardona must put children first

Over the holiday season, President-Elect Joe Biden named Miguel Cardona as the next Secretary of Education. When introducing Cardona, The Biden team has stressed the need to “ensure that every student has access to a quality education, regardless of their ZIP code.” We must hold the next administration accountable to this ideal. It cannot be just another platitude or a disingenuous promise to Biden’s supporters who know the existing system is broken.

In his remarks following Biden’s introduction, Cardona stressed the need to increase education quality. He highlighted how he, as Education Commissioner in Connecticut, fought to put the needs of all students first. Cardona must bring that commitment to Washington, D.C. as well.

The Biden administration must put children before special interests. And they must prioritize all children, not just some.

In her statement supporting Mr. Cardona’s nomination, former National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García asserted that Cardona will, “focus on the success of all students.” We encourage the political operatives of national teachers’ unions to remember that goal: all students. The Biden campaign promised to bring this country together, and to do that it simply must prioritize the children.

For the majority of our lives, the Democratic Party as a whole has opposed the types of opportunity that millions of children need. Biden and Cardona have both claimed “public education is the great equalizer.” We disagree. A high-quality education, regardless of school type, is the great equalizer in today’s society. As beneficiaries of school choice programs serving children from lower-income families, we are among the lucky few who found alterative options that changed our lives.

Biden has promised to provide additional funding to public schools. Over and over, the Biden campaign makes this promise, to resource schools instead of resourcing students. If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we cannot leave students at the mercy of school systems that remain closed due to union power rather than medical science. Families deserve flexibility so that they can choose the education option that is best for their children.

On Dec. 21, Congress appropriated $54 billion dollars for primary and secondary education in the second round of COVID relief. Despite the fact that 10% of students attend non-traditional public schools, only 2.7% of the funding was directed to them. Any additional relief money that the Biden Administration secures for primary and secondary education must include support for lower-income families attending private schools. The reality is that all students, whether they attend private, public, or parochial schools, have been hit hard by this pandemic.

Teachers’ unions donated more than $43 million dollars to political campaigns in 2019, 97% of which went to Democrats. The primary question is, which interest will the new education secretary serve? Cardona might be uniquely positioned to benefit both students and unions, but his priorities must be in that order, especially when 77% of parents want school choice for their children.

We share a common experience with Cardona — that of navigating the school system as students from lower-income families. We were blessed with scholarships that allowed us to leave the public schools where we struggled and receive the education that lifted us to where we are today.

Cardona overcame the odds and managed to succeed in the public system, but many children do not. When we look at outcomes, if we want a better future for America’s students, what does it matter if they went to public or private school? Let families choose what they think puts their children in a position to succeed.

We hope Cardona can stand by his promise and fight for all students, and not for those special interests that donated millions of dollars to the Biden campaign. In the words of the outgoing Education Secretary, with this most recent COVID relief package, “Congress focused on systems instead of students.” We hope that Cardona does not do the same.

Walter Blanks and Nathan Cunneen are Future Leaders Fellows at the American Federation for Children.



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