Biden education secretary frontrunners have been critical of charter schools, back teacher unions

President-elect Joe Biden has his eyes on two frontrunners for Education Secretary as he lines up his cabinet choices, but his pick is likely to frustrate Republicans in favor of charter schools.

Biden, who ran with the endorsement and campaigning support of former President Barak Obama, is separating himself from his last presidential administration by throwing his weight behind teachers unions — making him one of the first pro-teachers union presidents in decades.

The National Education Association (NEA), one of the U.S.’s largest teacher unions, endorsed Biden who has remained mum on his inclusion of charter schools in his education plan.

The president-elect has not said he wants to completely remove school choice, but he is looking to fill the Education Secretary position with public school educators who have anti-charter school policies.

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Former president of the NEA, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, is believed to be a frontrunner on Biden’s short list to fill his cabinet, and the more likely candidate to pass through the currently GOP-led Senate.

Garcia responded to the largely unchecked growth of charter schools under the Obama administration by issuing a new policy statement in 2016 that drew a line between “unaccountable” privately owned charter schools and charter schools that have benefited public school education, calling them a “failed and damaging experiment.”

In an attempt to grant low income students the ability to seek education outside of their often low-performing school disctricts, the Obama administration more than doubled the number of charter schools in the U.S. from 4,600 schools attended by 1.4 million students in 2008, to more than 7,000 charter schools with a near 3 million student enrollment by 2016, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Public school teachers and union leaders have protested the expansive growth in charter schools for essentially two reasons: a lack in accountability and transparency in charter schools, coupled with public school funding having been diverted by them.

Garcia is an ardent supporter of increasing charter school accountability while limiting the number of schools available to ensure that funding for public schools is not negatively impacted.

“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed of schools in which they would be free to innovate, unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles,” García said in a 2017 statement while president of the NEA. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes student success, undermines public education and harms communities.”

The push for charter schools became a leading campaign issue for President Trump during the 2020 presidential election – pushing back against Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., who believe the unprecedented growth of charter schools have actually had a negative effect on student education options.

Under the Trump administration, charter schools continued to increse, but at a much slower rate with just over 7,500 charter schools in the U.S. in 2020, with 3.3 million students enrolled.

Head of another teacher union, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, has also likely made Biden’s Education Secretary short list, according to The New York Times – though her candidacy could face stronger opposition in the Republican senate.

Weingarten was an ardent supporter of Warren during her presidential bid because of the senator’s K-12 education proposal, which omitted federal funding from charter schools, reported USA Today.

“She gets it,” Weingarten told the publication in October 2019 when Warren was still in the running. “We won’t be in the streets, we will be in our schools making America what it ought to be.”

Weingarten participated in a four-day citywide teacher strike in Chicago last year, to protest a lack in teachers pay, classroom sizes and staffing needs.

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Biden has not said he would seek to eliminate federal funding for charter schools, but he has pointed to his wife’s career as a lifelong teacher as a motivating factor in how he will tackle education in the U.S.

Biden’s plans includes increasing teacher pay, eliminating teacher student-loan debt, providing increased funding for special needs students and doubling the number of school psychologists, counselor nurses and social workers.

Biden has signaled he intends to diversify his cabinet along the political spectrum, meaning there are likely to be some conservative candidates that will appeal to the GOP-majority Senate. Though whether Biden will be able to push through an education secretary who is against charter schools remains to be seen.

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