WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday easily confirmed Miguel A. Cardona, a career educator who rose through Connecticut’s education system to become a leader in the effort to reopen pandemic-shuttered schools, as the next education secretary.
His nomination was approved by a vote of 64 to 33.
Dr. Cardona, who was tapped by President Biden to lead the Education Department from his post as Connecticut’s education commissioner, had sailed through a confirmation hearing last month. He drew bipartisan support for his success in reopening a majority of Connecticut’s schools and for his conciliatory positions on divisive education issues.
Dr. Cardona’s personal background and career — a sharp contrast to that of his predecessor Betsy DeVos, a billionaire private-school champion — drew widespread praise.
The son of Puerto Rican parents, he grew up in public housing in Meriden, Conn., and attended public schools throughout his life. He started as a struggling English-language learner and went on to become an elementary-school teacher, an award-winning principal, an assistant superintendent in that school system and Connecticut’s first Latino commissioner of education.
Throughout his confirmation process, Dr. Cardona has elevated his identity, often switching between English and Spanish during public appearances.
“I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans,” he said during his December nomination speech when he was introduced by Mr. Biden. A group from his hometown put the quote on mugs, and it has become a fund-raiser for a local scholarship fund.
Dr. Cardona promised to help guide public schools through the worst public health crisis in a century, which has left millions of students with haphazard schooling for nearly a year and school districts reeling from academic, mental health and budgetary setbacks.
March 1, 2021, 7:37 p.m. ET
Dr. Cardona told senators last month that he would “do everything in my power to make sure that our rollout strategy for reopening schools includes communication on how to safely reopen.”
He also strongly endorsed the billions of dollars that the Biden administration is pushing to ensure schools have enough safety measures and staffing to do so. “If we really want to recover, we need to invest now or we’re going to pay later,” he said.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced Dr. Cardona’s nomination on Feb. 11, with leaders of both parties expressing confidence in two areas that were challenges for Ms. DeVos: his qualifications and his willingness to work with Congress. During the hearing, he demonstrated knowledge of federal policy and the intricacies of class sizes. He also walked a fine line on issues that are dicey for both parties, including charter schools and standardized testing.
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The education post, once a quiet cabinet position, became one of the most high-profile and divisive jobs in the Trump administration.
Dr. Cardona is expected to oversee an ambitious agenda set by the Biden administration that seeks to reverse virtually everything the previous administration has done, while pursuing new goals like delivering large infusions of federal funding to the nation’s public schools. The department also shrank significantly under the Trump administration, and morale was among the worst of any government agency.
Unlike Ms. DeVos, Dr. Cardona has little experience in politics and is largely untested in the partisan battles that await him.
In the only tense exchange with Republican lawmakers during his confirmation hearing, Dr. Cardona signaled that he would not bend to some political pressures, particularly those concerning civil rights. When asked whether he would allow transgender female students to compete on sports teams with biological females — an issue that is sure to be the subject of policy and court battles — he said he believed that “schools should offer the opportunity for students to engage in extracurricular activities, even if they’re transgender.”
After the hearing, Dr. Cardona tweeted a short message — the only public statement he made as he awaited his final confirmation vote. “All means all,” he wrote.