Miguel Cardona’s confirmation this month as President Biden’s secretary of education has left the nation’s school choice advocates wary but hopeful. Certainly, they appreciate the fact that Biden decided against elevating a number of teachers union executives to the position. In fact, after Cardona put in a good word for Connecticut’s charter schools and was an advocate for reopening Connecticut’s schools post COVID-19 closures, one is almost skeptical as to how his nomination avoided being canceled by liberal unions, let alone received their endorsements. In a letter from Cardona put out by the department after his confirmation, he said, “The research is conclusive: when they can do so safely, students are better off learning in school, in person, rather than remotely.”
School choice advocates may owe former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a debt of gratitude for pushing so hard on her policies that progressives were willing to accept anyone remotely resembling a normal-sounding Democrat. Whether Cardona’s support from the Republican senators who voted in his favor turns out to be a Faustian bargain in disguise, however, remains unknown.
The challenges facing the nation’s public schools are dire. Before even focusing on our nation’s inner-city schools, it is worth noting, for example, that in Wisconsin, according to research by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, there are over 40,000 school-age children in 134 rural zip codes who do not have a high-performing school within 10 miles of where they live. These rural schools actually lag behind Wisconsin’s urban schools, which is saying something because in Milwaukee Public Schools alone, more than 40% of the schools fail to meet expectations, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. The suburban schools, where parental wealth creates educational options for their children, have been outperforming rural and urban schools for years, creating the largest achievement gap between black and white students in the nation.