Cardona education secretary hearing called a ‘love fest’

On Wednesday, the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) held its confirmation hearing for Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for secretary of education. It was a genial affair. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle extended effusive praise for Cardona’s character and experience, while Cardona offered a bunch of vague homilies on topics like the importance of student mental health and the need to help rural schools.
While Democratic enthusiasm was predictable, Republicans also went out of their way to shower Cardona in praise. Before Cardona had said a word, Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s ranking minority member, led the hearing off by saying he expected to support the nomination and would “encourage all of my colleagues” to do so, as well. Maine Sen. Susan Collins called Cardona “a perfect role model for so many children.” Sen. Tim Scott said that Cardona’s life story “reminds me of the goodness of America.”
Cardona’s story is indeed an inspiring one. He grew up in a housing project, learned English as a second language, attended public colleges, and went on to be Connecticut’s youngest principal. Along the way, by all accounts, he was an upstanding role model and neighbor in his community. So, there’s a lot to like.
At the same time, it would have been nice to see Republicans given pause by a hearing that was more evasive than enlightening. While ducking and dodging are part of any confirmation, Cardona is largely a blank slate. He’s spent nearly the whole of his career working in school districts and out of the public eye, and lacks a visible track record on most of the big questions at the heart of the education debates. On Wednesday, he offered little to clarify his views on contentious issues.
When Sen. Scott asked Cardona about the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the voucher program that has been a frequent Democratic target despite high levels of parent satisfaction and impressive graduation rates, Cardona would only say that “my passion really is to ensure quality schools” and that he’s opposed to “a system of winners and losers.”
Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan noted that several of her colleagues had raised concerns about the level of funding in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, and asked Cardona what the funds would be used for and how he’d justify the massive price tag. Cardona demurred, saying only that the funds are meant “to make sure we recover” and that “we really need to invest now or we’re going to pay later.”
Even where Cardona initially took a strong stance, he later seemed to reverse course. For instance, he led off the hearing by sounding admirably firm on the importance of school reopening, saying the nation needed to do “everything in our power to safely reopen schools” and that “there is no substitute for a classroom experience, for our students being in front of their teacher.”
In response to follow-up queries, however, Cardona equivocated. When Sen. Burr asked if it was okay for Fairfax County, Virginia, to keep its schools closed until every teacher and each of its 185,000 students have been vaccinated, as its teacher union chief has proposed, Cardona would say only that surveillance testing is important and that educators should be prioritized for vaccinations. In short, Cardona very obviously refused to challenge an outlandish proposal that might keep schools closed into the second half of Biden’s first term (given that there is as yet no vaccine approved for children under 16).
Perhaps the only contentious area in which Cardona seemed to stake out a clear position was transgender sports participation. When GOP Sen. Rand Paul repeatedly pressed Cardona on whether schools can be required to let biological males compete on female sports teams, Cardona said that it’s critical transgender students “are afforded the opportunities that every other student has to participate in extracurricular activities” and seemingly implied that his Office of Civil Rights would mandate that athletes be able to participate in accord with their gender identity — without regard to biology.
The HELP lovefest was a world away from the hostile treatment afforded former Secretary Betsy DeVos over the past four years. It’s good to see that Republicans don’t hold a grudge, and instead treated Cardona with collegiality and good will. Here’s hoping that a Secretary Cardona, if confirmed, will respond in kind. But he exited his confirmation a cipher, very much as he entered.
Frederick M. Hess is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. RJ Martin is the program manager of education at AEI.
via wnd

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