School reopening challenge awaits Biden nominee Cardona

Biden tasks Education Secretary nominee Cardona with reopening of schools

Cardona will also be tasked with easing colossal student debt accumulated by US university students

Dr. Miguel Cardona, US President-Elect Joe Biden's nominee for Education Secretary, speaks during an event announcing his nomination at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware. Credit: AFP

US President-elect Joe Biden formally presented his pick for education secretary Wednesday, introducing Miguel Cardona as the official who, if approved, will tackle the acceleration of school reopenings following months of closure in many locations.

The incoming president, who has made safely reopening the majority of schools one of his top national priorities for his first 100 days, heralded Cardona as someone "who truly understands" the difficulties the pandemic has placed on the education system.

A longtime educator who has served as both a teacher and administrator, Cardona, 45, is also notable as part of a record number of potential Latino nominations to Biden's cabinet.

The job, Biden said, "requires someone who understands the need to prevent the pandemic from further exacerbating the inequities in our education system that represent a compounding problem."

Cardona, who serves as the Connecticut education commissioner and is a former public schoolteacher, is the son of Puerto Rican parents.

As an advocate for public schools, Cardona, whose appointment still must be confirmed by the Senate, is poised as a policy maker whose views are at odds with those of Betsy DeVos, the billionaire and controversial education secretary who has favored private and charter schools under President Donald Trump.

While the outgoing Republican president has pleaded in favor of reopening schools, critics say his government has done little to help with logistical and financial aid.

Many schools around the US remain in 100 percent virtual mode nine months after closing, at the risk of further widening inequalities.

"Reopening schools safely will be a national priority," Biden said Wednesday.

Cardona will also be tasked with carrying out Biden's other flagship educational initiatives: easing colossal student debt accumulated by US university students, making higher education more affordable, and instituting universal pre-kindergarten.