The Senate confirmed Miguel Cardona to lead the Education Department on Monday, adding to President Joe Biden’s Cabinet a key official who will help lead the administration’s efforts to reopen schools amid the pandemic.

Cardona, the commissioner of education in Connecticut, becomes the 12th person to be confirmed as secretary of Education. He takes on the role at a time of unprecedented tumult and disruption in the nation’s schools and colleges, which have been roiled for nearly a full year by the pandemic.

Cardona and the White House have said that his No. 1 task as Education secretary will be to guide the reopening of schools across the country. Biden has pledged to have most K-8 schools open for in-person instruction by the end of April.

The Senate voted 64-33 in favor of the nomination, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats to back Cardona.

The bipartisan vote was a stark contrast to the contentious confirmation four years ago of Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed after then-Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote.

Cardona’s confirmation was also more bipartisan than that of John B. King Jr., President Barack Obama’s second secretary of Education, who was confirmed on a 49-40 vote. The five secretaries of Education prior to King were each confirmed by the Senate either on a voice vote or under unanimous consent.

Biden’s selection of Cardona makes good on a campaign promise to pick a public school educator to be his secretary of Education. Cardona previously was a classroom teacher, district administrator and assistant superintendent before being named in 2019 as Connecticut’s state education chief.

In Connecticut, Cardona pushed to reopen schools during the pandemic without alienating the state’s teachers unions, who backed his confirmation. But he’ll now have to walk that political tightrope on the national stage amid an increasingly acrimonious debate over how and when schools should be open for in-person instruction.

Republican leaders have sought to lay the blame for closed classrooms on the Biden administration and have been hammering Democrats and teachers unions over 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 U.S. 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 level.

The Biden administration has said that it will make good on its promise to reopen schools by providing them with the federal health guidance and funding needed to safely reopen. The administration’s Covid relief package, which passed the House on Saturday, sets aside $170 billion for education.

During his confirmation hearing last month, Cardona pledged to do “everything in our power to safely reopen schools.”

He emphasized the need for Congress to pass Covid relief for schools and called for expanded surveillance testing in schools as well as prioritized vaccines for teachers. “If we really want to recover,” he said, “we really need to invest now or we’re gonna pay later.”

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