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Dr. Miguel Cardona. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP
Dr. Miguel Cardona. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

Miguel Cardona’s first Senate hearing offered a glimpse of him as Education Secretary

Dr. Cardona spoke on Wednesday, Feb. 3 about a range of topics from school reopening and student loan relief, to vaccinating teachers and Biden’s 100-day plan.

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On Wednesday, Feb. 3, Dr. Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for Education Secretary, addressed several contentious issues at his first Senate confirmation hearing, such as student loan forgiveness, transgender participation in women’s sports and how to follow through on Biden’s promise to reopen schools within his first 100 days in office. 

If Cardona is confirmed, he will inherit the educational crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

He did not provide specific ideas on how children will be able to return to school, but did mention that vaccine distribution should be prioritized for educators. 

In December 2020, Cardona gained national attention as Biden announced his nomination to lead the Education Department, but prior to that, Cardona was a fourth grade teacher that quickly rose through the administrative ranks. 

In August 2019, he became the first Latino to lead Connecticut’s Education Department, where he spent the majority of his time managing the chaos the pandemic inflicted on state schools. As Connecticut’s education commissioner, he pushed for schools to reopen, citing the increase in achievement gaps that were made worse by remote learning. 

Unlike former Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, Cardona made sure to listen to the concerns of teacher’s unions. Unions from his home state desired a more conservative approach to reopening, and their opinions did clash at times, but ultimately, they praised his nomination. 

When asked about charter schools, Cardona explained that he’s not actively opposed to them, but suggested that his focus would be elsewhere. 

“I recognize that there are excellent examples of charter schools… I know there are also phenomenal examples of neighborhood schools. It’s really important that we support all schools, including those neighborhood schools that are usually the first choice for families in that community,” he said. 

The most tense moments came as several Republican senators pressed Cardona to share his thoughts on whether transgender students should be permitted to compete in athletic competitions that correspond with their gender identity. 

The Supreme Court recently ruled that Title IX, the federal law barring discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Devos claimed that this ruling doesn’t apply to Title IX, but Cardona, who has witnessed the issue play out in Connecticut, suggested he would begin to apply the ruling. 

Cardona vowed to uphold the civil rights of all students, regardless of their gender identity, emphasizing that it was “critically important” and the “legal responsibility of schools” to ensure that transgender students have access to equal opportunities regarding extracurricular activities. 

When questioned about student loan forgiveness, Cardona repeated his support of the president’s plan to back Congressional action to cancel $10,000 of student debt per borrower. He also said he’d work with “our senators and our Congress folks to support a plan that provides some relief to our students in higher education.” 

“College is the pathway to continued success and we have to make sure that our students still have access to it and that they’re supported in this process,” Cardona said. 

He also declared that debt cancellation for the communities most impacted will be prioritized. 

“We have to assess the damage that [student debt] is causing… and make sure we’re targeting the support for students who need it most.” 

For many Americans, the hearing on Feb. 3 was the first chance to hear Cardona’s views on a range of topics. 

While he hasn’t been able to satisfy everyone present at the hearing, his background in the industry, his passion for bilingual education and his advocacy for public school education is ushering in much-needed change for the country. 

It’s apparent that Cardona, if confirmed, is ready to take on the challenge of solving the many educational problems facing the nation, in a multi-faceted way. 

After accepting Biden’s nomination last December, he told NPR, “I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans."

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