Biden fills out Education Department
Some appointees could slow reopening efforts
In the early days of his administration, President Joe Biden promised extra funding, guidance, and data collection to help schools fight racial inequality and reopen safely during COVID-19. Liberal educators and teachers union advisers fill out his Education Department, which could signal coming attacks on school choice. They could also delay his plans to get students back to class quickly.
Unions and school choice advocates alike praised Biden’s choice of Connecticut educator Miguel Cardona for education secretary. But his pick for second in command has a history of opposing charter schools. San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten has touted research estimating the city’s public schools lose $65.9 million a year due to charters. She has also argued districts should be able to consider how charter schools would impact them financially when considering applications. Charter school advocate Nina Rees told education website The 74 Million that Marten “is a curious pick for a deputy secretary of education nominee, given the Biden administration’s call for unity, racial equity and support for working families.”
During Marten’s tenure, San Diego schools changed discipline policies to reduce suspensions, and last year the district removed homework due dates and classroom behavior from academic grades in an attempt to reduce achievement gaps.
Similar figures fill less prominent Education Department roles in the Biden administration. Biden chose Columbia University law professor Suzanne Goldberg to lead civil rights efforts in the department. She founded Columbia’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic to train law students to advocate for LGBTQ people. Goldberg will support the Biden administration’s efforts to undo Trump-era Title IX rules outlining the rights of individuals accused of misconduct, policies she has argued would deter students from reporting assault. Ben Miller of the left-leaning Center for American Progress is in line to run the postsecondary education office. And Biden asked Emma Leheny to provide legal advice to the department and Donna Harris-Aikens to oversee policy and planning. Both have worked for teachers unions.
In the short term, close ties with teachers unions may prove an obstacle to Biden’s goal of reopening most schools within his first 100 days in office. In Chicago, the union froze efforts to bring elementary and middle school students back into classrooms. Unions first want more COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and clear safety guidelines. Biden promised to provide those resources, but it might take a while thanks to a rocky vaccine rollout, new strains of COVID-19, and lawmakers’ wrangling over funding. Biden hasn’t backed down from his goal, but his chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told union leaders in late January the administration might not make its deadline. “That’s the goal,” Fauci said. “That may not happen because there may be mitigating circumstances.”
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