President Joe Biden has nominated Dr. Miguel Cardona, Connecticut education commissioner, to serve as the 12th U.S. Secretary of Education. On February 3, Cardona will appear before the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee for his confirmation hearing, where he will further outline his vision and priorities for the Department of Education and how he will support all students to access an equitable education.

If confirmed, Cardona will lead the department’s efforts to administer federal funding and oversee the implementation of programs included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Higher Education Act (HEA) — three critical civil rights laws, among others. Cardona will steer the department’s decision-making, guidance, and resources that impact every facet of public education from pre-K through college and career. He also will be responsible for helping fulfill the Biden administration’s 100-day priority to resume in-person K-8 schools just over one year after COVID-19 caused all schools to shift quickly to remote learning.

At Ed Trust, we have been encouraged by Cardona’s efforts to efforts to safely resume in-person instruction in Connecticut using statewide data  and his success in ensuring all Connecticut students were connected virtually. And we are heartened by the emphasis he has put on English learners given his background as an English learner himself.

After an unprecedented year, so many stakeholders — educators, parents and families, advocates, and school staff — will want to hear Cardona’s thoughts on the challenges facing the education system and the role that the department should play in helping solve them.

Here are 12 questions that we hope Cardona will answer during the hearing:

  1. Students — especially students from low-income backgrounds and students of color — are experiencing significant interrupted instruction. As secretary, would he support dedicated funding in future COVID-19 relief packages for increased targeted intensive tutoring, expanded learning time, and other evidence-based strategies to accelerate learning?
  2. Early childhood education is facing an existential crisis in light of COVID-19. What steps would he take to ensure high-quality early childhood education is available for Black and Latino children and children from low-income families during this pandemic?
  3. Students are experiencing stress, anxiety, and learning obstacles due to school closures and other COVID-19-related stressors. Would he support dedicated funding in future COVID-19 relief packages for increased counselors, school nurses, social workers, mentoring, and other whole child supports?
  4. More than 30 million students depend on schools for their meals every day — a service that has become completely upended during the pandemic. How can the department work with other federal partners to support states to increase access to meals for secondary and post-secondary students both during and after the pandemic?
  5. Students of color are at higher risk of losing their teachers to state and local education budget cuts, as we learned during the Great Recession of 2008. How will he work with Congress to prevent this from happening again?
  6. Connecticut has had exceptional success in connecting K-12 students to remote learning during the pandemic. What will be the department’s role in helping other states achieve that level of connectivity? Should there be dedicated resources to close the digital divide in an upcoming COVID-19 relief package?
  7. There are concerning racial disparities in access to advanced coursework nationwide. What more can the department and Congress do to ensure that states are providing the same opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds and students of color?
  8. Racial disparities in school discipline prevent Black and Latino children from fully participating in class time and opportunities to learn. What more can the federal government do to create safe, equitable, and positive learning environments for students of color?
  9. What more can the department and Congress do to ensure we have a teacher workforce that looks like all of America? What role does he see for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) in ensuring the federal government is doing all it can to increase educator diversity?
  10. How can the department better support districts’ and states’ efforts to report high-quality data to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) and how can the department better use CRDC data to inform policies that will remove barriers to educational opportunity for our country’s Black and Latino students?
  11. Congress recently lifted the 1994 ban that prevents students who are incarcerated from accessing Pell Grants, a vital step toward educational equity and justice. Will he commit to full implementation of lifting the Pell ban by July 1 to ensure students who are incarcerated can access Pell during the upcoming award year?
  12. Evidence-based support models like the City University New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP) serve as a good example of how to increase graduation rates and close racial equity gaps for today’s students. What are his views on the opportunities to better support college students who are from low-income backgrounds, students of color, disabled, working full or part time, or parents of young children?

Answers to these questions — and others posed to Cardona — will help us better understand how he intends to confront the inequities that have plagued our education system since its inception as well as those that have been exacerbated in the wake of COVID-19. There is no shortage of work to be done for our nation’s students and their families — and there is certainly no time to waste.