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A Connecticut teacher becomes nation's chief educator

Connecticut should feel a sense of pride with the confirmation Monday of Miguel Cardona as the U.S. Secretary of Education. Since 2019, Cardona had served as the commissioner of education for Connecticut.

Cardona’s primary task will be working toward President Joe Biden’s goal of having most K-8 schools open for in-person instruction by the end of April. The new education secretary recognizes that this must be done through persuasion and cooperation, not by browbeating teachers into acquiescence, which seems to be the approach of many on the Republican side.

The education secretary lacks the power to force schools to reopen classrooms. Such decisions are made at the state, county and local level. But Cardona pledged to do “everything in our power to safely reopen schools.” That must include continued federal health guidance, funding to help provide the protective equipment necessary, and bringing recognition to school systems that have done reopening well.

Cardona’s brief time as Connecticut commissioner has prepared him well. Under his guidance, the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont brought together teachers, parents, administrators and unions to develop reopening plans. It did not seek to force reopenings, but left the final decision at the local level, where it belonged.

While we would have liked to have seen more schools open sooner, Connecticut has shown better progress in this regard — getting schools open without spiking numbers — than many other states.

The Senate voted 64-33 in favor of the nomination, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats to confirm Cardona. That’s a landslide in today’s hyper-partisan atmosphere. His predecessor, Betsy DeVos, was confirmed only after then-Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote. John B. King Jr., education secretary under President Obama, won confirmation 49-40.

We would prefer a return to the days when the presidential choice for this position, unless considered unfit for a glaring reason, was respected by the Senate. Education secretaries for decades were approved unanimously or by voice vote.

Most critically, perhaps, is the perspective Cardona will bring to the job. He began his professional career as an elementary school teacher in Meriden, a product of the public schools of that town. He then moved up the ranks of administration and to  commissioner.

He knows the importance of public education and the ladder to success it can provide. But also how devastating it can be to the prospects of future achievement if that ladder is not fairly and fully constructed. Biden made a great choice.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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