Following a year defined by tragedy, uncertainty and the pain of living through a pandemic, I did not expect that I would have to defend the educational opportunities of millions of struggling children and their parents during a confirmation hearing for Miguel Cardona, President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of education.
Education is the closest thing to magic we have in America: It is the great equalizer and our generation’s modern civil rights issue. Yet it seems that just weeks into his presidency, instead of uniting the country, President Biden is rallying behind the hardly uniting principles of far-left progressivism. The latest in this progressive wish list: listening to teacher unions over parents, dismantling successful, commonsense education reform measures such as charter schools and private-school choice and sending mixed signals on reopening schools nationwide.
I am willing to work in good faith with Cardona to help the millions of poor kids, like I was, have a fighting chance at the American dream. Ideally, Cardona would be setting the education agenda for the Biden administration. But the reality is, Biden will be dictating his agenda to Cardona. Unfortunately, it is not his Connecticut policies that he will be championing as Biden’s education chief, it is the president’s union-focused progressive policies. And because of that, I voted against advancing his confirmation in committee, and will vote against him on the Senate floor.
I have great respect for Cardona’s background — we share similar life stories that have shaped who we are and have brought us from poverty to the highest levels of public service. And while I commend him for his personal success, if Cardona follows the Biden plan to pit teacher unions against parents and students, our kids will never get the education they truly deserve.
As a member of the U.S. Senate Education Committee, I know that true education reform must include charter schools, public funding for Catholic and other religiously affiliated schools, COVID-relief for nonpublic schools and the bipartisan District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship program, which has opened the doors for kids in our nation’s capital to climb the ladder of success. In a time when too many of our students lack access to quality education or are trapped in failing schools, we must pave the way for greater choice and innovation for learning.
But not everyone feels the same way. Elites in Washington have had the luxury to send their children to private schools when they think their assigned school is not good enough. In fact, President Biden and his family, former President Barack Obama and his children, House Democratic Whip James Clyburn, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and so many others who refuse to support options for students and parents all benefited from private and parochial schools.
It smacks of hypocrisy that those policymakers who block the poorest Americans from reaching those educational dreams have paid for their children to reach theirs. And if the wealthy elites decide against private school, they can just move into a better house, in a better district, with better public schools. This “do as I say, not as I do” mentality is pervasive in our government today.
Kids from low-income families in both rural and urban areas deserve a chance at reaching their full potential. They need to see success, not suffer the status quo. The pandemic has strained already-failing schools and left millions of students in virtual learning. And on top of that, teacher unions continue to silence the voices of scientists, parents and reasonable people who support the safe return of students to classrooms.
The answer is not to just throw good money after bad, but to reform the foundations of our system. Charter schools and private-school choice incentivize our traditional public schools to do better and has been a lifeline for millions of students to escape failing schools.
Parents deserve to have a larger and louder voice in the conversation, but I am not convinced that this administration is interested in hearing them. The Biden administration, and the education policies implemented by Cardona, must put students and parents first, and I will do everything I can to hold them accountable for their decisions.
Tim Scott is a Republican senator from South Carolina. He grew up in North Charleston.