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Confirmation of New Secretary of Education Moves Forward

Capitol building Washington DC sunlight USA US congressThis blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

House and Senate Press Forward with First Steps to Pass Biden COVID Relief Package

In dramatic moves in both the House and Senate last week, the stage was set to enact President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. Early in the week the House passed a Budget Resolution followed by Senate passage of a Budget Resolution early Friday morning—with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Harris. The Budget resolution is the shell that will initiate the creation of legislation that will form the COVID-19 relief package. Because the Senate Resolution is different from the House resolution, the House will next take up the Senate version and pass it so that both bodies are working from the same playbook.           

The resolution directs multiple committees, including both the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Committee on HELP, to draft legislation according to the specifications of the resolution. The Budget Committee then gathers the legislation and puts it into one bill, called “reconciliation” and brings it to the floor of the respective bodies. The advantage of this approach is that it requires only 51 votes in the Senate, providing a partisan opportunity for Democrats to enact the bill over the objection of all Republicans. 

Despite a range of calls for a bi-partisan approach to the legislation, partisan politics appears to have won out.  The sense of urgency has propelled the move by Democrats, as they are looking at a March 14 deadline when supplemental unemployment expires. 

Democrats Take Committee Gavels as Secretary of Education Nominee Miguel Cardona Breezes Through Confirmation

This week Senate Democrats and Republicans finally came to an agreement about how the Senate will be organized for the 117th Congress, at last acknowledging that the Democrats now rule the Senate. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) took the gavel on the HELP Committee as Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) became the Ranking Member—taking the place of retired Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). The Committee welcomed two new Democratic Members—Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)—as it bid farewell to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who will join the Committee on Finance.

In her first official act as Committee chair, Sen. Murray presided over the confirmation hearing for Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education. Chair Murray noted, “Given Dr. Cardona’s background, there is no question he’s ready for these challenges. And after four years of a Secretary of Education who had no experience in public education, I’m thrilled to have a nominee before us who is a former elementary school teacher, a former adjunct professor, a former principal and a former assistant superintendent … As a former preschool teacher myself, I know firsthand how valuable that classroom perspective is when working on these issues.”

Cardona spent just over two hours fielding questions from Senators—some participating in person and some joining remotely. Cardona touched on everything from federal state testing waivers, reopening schools, transgender student rights, charter schools, and accessibility for students with disabilities and English Language Learners. When asked by Senator Kaine (D-VA) what the impact would be if Congress increased the federal investment for IDEA to 40% from the current level of 13% Cardona simply replied “… It would be a game changer.”

Sen. Richard Burr noted, “I will encourage all of my colleagues on my side to support you as well and to move expeditiously to have you sworn in as the next Secretary of Education.” Cardona’s performance stands in stark contrast to the theatrics of four years ago when Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing went viral, generating voluminous opposition, and requiring a tie breaking vote on the Senate floor by then Vice President Mike Pence.

The HELP Committee will vote on Cardona’s confirmation on Thursday February 11 at 10 a.m. You can watch live.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. I look forward to seeing you on Twitter @janewestdc.


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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant