It has become apparent that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. President Trump is disputing the results in many of the swing states, but be that as it may, Biden is expected to start announcing his cabinet picks. Biden should be able to pick mostly whoever he wants, depending on how much Congress Democrats control as two senate seats are still in the air.
Given that this is the case, it is imperative that Joe Biden nominates a Secretary of Education that supports school choice. This might seem like a relatively benign request. Charters schools, and school choice in general until recently enjoyed bipartisan support. Indeed, the Obama administration that Biden was apart of himself was mostly supportive of charters, especially in the beginning. But this isn’t 2008, 2012, or even 2016. Education has a much bigger microscope on it today than it did then. School choice had already started to receive backlash from progressives towards the end of Obama’s presidency and that accelerated during Trump’s tenure no doubt in part because of the unpopular Betsy DeVos’s enthusiastic support of them.
This argument is mostly political in nature. There is no mass exodus from high performing charter schools. Support for charter schools among Black and Hispanic people, the traditional subjects of the debate, is still favorable by comparison. Even among Democrats support is still somewhat strong. Polling shows most are in favor or at least not explicitly opposed to charters unless you mention Trump by name. Vouchers poll even stronger among those same lines, but this has not stopped school choice from appearing controversial in the media and that does matter to politicians. Case in point, Biden himself no longer supports vouchers – depending on who you ask and when you ask them.
In short, it would be much easier for Biden to pick a Secretary of Education who isn’t on board with school choice than it would have been in previous years. And given that education stake holders are paying more attention than they ever have before, he will likely be under some pressure to do so.
He must resist that pressure.
This is a crossroads for school choice. A party really only gets a chance to create a national agenda and strategy when they control the executive branch. This means that who Biden chooses and what they do will set a precedent. It is important that this administration reaffirms the bipartisan nature of educational choice. If that does not happen, we may enter a paradigm in which having educational options becomes a political tug of war like everything else.
Given the fact that a GOP controlled Senate is still a real possibility, Biden may be forced to choose centrist candidates for his cabinet anyway. In terms of the Secretary of Education that line would likely be defined by school choice. Still, one would hope that it doesn’t come to that and school choice will be what it has been since the Clinton administration – nonpartisan. We have a chance to send a message: Having options shouldn’t be optional.