Who should be the next Secretary of Education?

As the Presidential transition begins, one question is on every school leader’s mind. Who will be the next Secretary of Education?

For charter school leaders, the question is even more critical. Once universally accepted 20 years ago, charter schools have become—as many other issues have—an issue deeply divided across party lines, across the country’s varied geographic regions and demographic segments. The current uncertainty surrounding who takes the job makes for uncertain times for all those associated with the educational choice movement.

Charter school leaders are mavericks, charting their own course, often in the face of big challenges, often with odds stacked against them. And yet, in spite of it all, charter schools grow, the movement grows, and students thrive.

All of this can be made easier or more difficult by the Secretary of Education.

POLL: Who would you want to see as Secretary of Education?

Last year, Biden promised his pick would be an educator.

“First thing, as president of United States – not a joke – first thing I will do is make sure that the secretary of education is not Betsy DeVos,” he said at a National Education Association forum for presidential candidates. “It is a teacher. A teacher. Promise.”

As early as May of this year, Forbes Magazine speculated that Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Michael Bennet, Sonja Brookins Santelises, currently CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, or even the soon-to-be First Lady, Jill Biden – a college professor herself – could be President-elect Biden’s top choice for the job.

The May article in Forbes Magazine also mentioned:

  • Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman — Kentucky’s lieutenant governor and former public school teacher and principal.
  • Governor Tony Evers — Wisconsin’s governor and former superintendent of public instruction.
  • Lily Eskelsen Garcia — president of the influential teachers’ union, the National Education Association.
  • Randi Weingarten — president of the influential teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers.
  • Michael Sorrell — president of Paul Quinn College and alumnus of the Clinton Administration.
  • Freeman Hrabowski – president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Should the position be offered to her, Randi Weingarten is unlikely to accept. In an interview Monday, she said, “I’m really happy doing what I’m doing. I’d be happy working with the Biden administration as president of the AFT (American Federation of Teachers).”

In September, DiverseEducation.com featured the list of potential picks. This list included former U.S. Secretary of Education and now president and CEO of the Education Trust John B. King Jr., and former U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton, Rep. Alma Adams, who leads the Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Joyce Beatty and Rep. Frederica Wilson.

In early November, Chalkbeat floated names, including Janice Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Sonja Brookins Santelises, the head of Baltimore schools, and William Hite, Philadelphia superintendent. These candidates have worked harmoniously with charter schools in the part, and are also the preferred candidates of DFER – Democrats for Education Reform.

Several commenters in this article mentioned Carol Corbett Burris.

However, at a recent event Biden campaign’s policy director Stef Feldman said that “the vice president is pretty committed to the concept that we need to be investing in our public neighborhood schools and we can’t be diverting funding away from them.”

According to InsideHigherEd.com, Lodriguez Murray, the United Negro College Fund’s vice president of public policy and government affairs, said that if asked by the transition, he’d suggest Rep. Alma Adams, a Democratic congresswoman from North Carolina and a former professor at Bennett College, a historically Black institution for women in Greensboro, N.C., who was instrumental in pushing to make federal funding for HBCUs permanent.

The Washington Post reported pointed at Tony Thurmond, the California state superintendent of public instruction; Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, a Democrat from Connecticut and a former national teacher of the year; Betty Rosa, New York state’s interim commissioner of education; and Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau are under consideration.

EducationPost.org gives a nod to many of the main names mentioned thus far, but adds a few names to the list: Sandra Boham – president of Salish Kootenai College in Montana, Fidel Vargas – president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Susan Bunting – former superintendent of the year, Rep. Susie Lee – founder of Afterschool All-Stars in Las Vegas, NV, and former Governor of Massachussetts Jane Swift – who’s been focused on educational improvement through classroom innovation and technology solutions at LearnLaunch.

As one can see, there is no shortage of potential picks. The President-Elect has affirmed he’ll pick a teacher, which narrows it down to some extent. Whoever is chosen will shape the future of education for at least the next four years and, potentially, years to come.

Depending on that person’s opinions of school choice, charter schools could be more accepted – and the divide between teacher unions and charter schools could become less hostile. Alternatively, should President-elect Biden’s Secretary of Education pick not to advocate for the school choice movement, charter schools could face myriad uncertainty in their future.

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