A First Look at Education Leaders & Priorities for the Biden Administration

The White House with tulips blooming.
(Image credit: iStock/Vacclav)

President-elect Joe Biden hasn’t officially been declared the winner yet, but the Biden team is forging ahead with planning for the transition into office in just two months. 

There are over 4,000 appointed positions that need to be staffed--this process takes time under normal circumstances. It’s now looking to be the first big challenge for the incoming Biden administration. Time is of the essence. 

Among these positions to fill is the Secretary for the United States Department of Education. Biden has pledged to put a public educator at the top of the department and the team sees no room for negotiation in that pledge. Politico lists the top three contenders for the spot as Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Randi Weingarten, and Linda Darling-Hammond

Edsource reports that Linda Darling-Hammond is out, stating, “I am not interested in that role. My commitment to Gov. Newsom and the California agenda that we are pursuing through the State Board of Education are paramount to me.” 

All of the potential leaders have been vetted during the campaign months, but until the election results are finals not much else can be done. 

The Biden-Harris team provided this list of all volunteers, for now, for the Department:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
NameMost Recent EmploymentSource of Funding
Linda Darling-Hammond, Team LeadLearning Policy InstituteVolunteer
Ary AmerikanerThe Education TrustVolunteer
Beth Antunez American Federation of TeachersVolunteer
Jim BrownUnited States Senate, Office of Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (Retired)Volunteer
Ruthanne BuckSelf-employedVolunteer
Norma CantuUniversity of Texas at Austin, School of LawVolunteer
Jessica CardichonLearning Policy InstituteVolunteer
Keia ColeMassMutualVolunteer
Lindsay DworkinAlliance for Excellent EducationVolunteer
Donna Harris-AikensNational Education AssociationVolunteer
Kristina IshmaelOpen Education GlobalVolunteer
Bob KimJohn Jay College of Criminal JusticeVolunteer
James KvaalThe Institute for College Access & SuccessVolunteer
Peggy McLeodUnidosUSVolunteer
Paul MonteiroHoward UniversityVolunteer
Pedro RiveraThaddeus Stevens College of TechnologyVolunteer
Roberto RodriguezTeach Plus, IncVolunteer
Shital ShahAmerican Federation of TeachersVolunteer
Marla Ucelli-KashyapAmerican Federation of TeachersVolunteer
Emma VadehraThe Century FoundationVolunteer

President-elect Biden has also already put out several policy priorities for education which include:

  • Eliminating tuition for all students at community college and for families earning under $125,000 at four-year public colleges and universities.
  • Doubling funding on Pell Grants
  • Tripling federal spending on low-income school districts 
  • Boosting the money the government spends on special education

Biden has also vowed to restore many regulations from the Obama era--including cracking down on abuses by for-profit colleges, new Title IX rules governing sexual misconduct at schools and universities, and protections for transgender students. 

According to Politico, “Proponents of sweeping debt relief, including Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, have said that the Education Department has the authority to provide student debt relief on its own without Congress. Advocates for debt relief say that view was bolstered by President Donald Trump’s decision over the summer to unilaterally extend student loan protections without congressional approval.” 

There was largely predicted to be a trifecta at the federal level with Democrats hoping to take both the White House and the Senate in this election. With the likelihood of the Republicans holding on to the Senate, there are going to be many battles ahead. 

Also interesting for education is the current state of the United States House of Representatives. As it stands as this piece is written, “Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far lost seven incumbents in Tuesday’s election, and that number could increase to about a dozen as more votes are tallied in New York, California and Utah. The most likely scenario for Democrats is a net loss of between seven to 11 seats, according to interviews with campaign officials and strategists from both parties.” This means when it’s election season in two years, the House will largely be in play where we could once again see a Democrat president and a Republican House and Senate-- exactly the same split as when Obama left office, but also the balance that gave us the authorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

There are still many unknowns right now before even looking forward to midterms, so keep checking back as more cabinet positions and education priorities are announced from the Biden team.

Susan Gentz

Susan comes from a strong policy background as a former staffer in the United States Senate and Legislative Aide in the Iowa House of Representatives. 

Along with experience at both federal and state levels, she served as the Deputy Executive Director for the Center for Digital Education, worked for a government relations firm in Arlington, VA and heavily worked on federal and state education policy at iNACOL, where she wrote published reports to move the field forward with innovative learning models, best practices, and policy recommendations.