The Senate voted 64-33 in favor of the nomination, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats in backing Cardona.
The bipartisan vote was in stark contrast to the controversial confirmation four years ago by Betsy DeVos, which was confirmed after then-vice president Mike Pence voted for the tie-breaker.
Cardona’s confirmation was also more bipartisan than that of John B. King Jr., President Barack Obama’s Second Secretary of Education, which was confirmed by a vote of 49-40. The five pre-King education secretaries were each confirmed by the Senate either by voice vote or unanimous consent.
Biden’s selection of Cardona is keeping his campaign promise to choose an educator at a public school to be his Education Secretary. Cardona was previously a teacher, district administrator and deputy superintendent before being named Connecticut state chief of education in 2019.
In Connecticut, Cardona pushed to reopen schools during the pandemic without alienating the state’s teacher unions, which backed his confirmation. But he will now have to walk this political tightrope on the national stage amid an increasingly acrimonious debate about how and when schools should be opened to in-person teaching.
Republican leaders have sought to blame the closed classes on the Biden administration and hammered Democrats and teacher unions on the issue for weeks. In Congress, GOP lawmakers have repeatedly introduced amendments that would require schools to reopen in order to receive additional Covid relief funding.
The US Secretary of Education does not have the power to directly force schools to reopen their classrooms, and such decisions are made at the state and local levels.
The Biden administration has said it will keep its promise to reopen schools by providing them with the federal health advice and funding needed to safely reopen. The administration’s Covid relief program, which was passed by the House on Saturday, sets aside $ 170 billion for education.
At his confirmation hearing last month, Cardona pledged to do “everything in our power to reopen schools safely.”
He stressed the need for Congress to pass Covid relief to schools and called for expanded surveillance testing in schools as well as priority vaccines for teachers. “If we really want to recover,” he said, “we really have to invest now or we’ll pay later.”