Will a former national teacher union president be the next U.S. Education Secretary?

Lily Eskelsen García is the former president of the National Education Association. Credit: Wikipedia.

As President-elect Joe Biden continues to roll-out nominees for his top Cabinet posts, the U.S. Secretary of Education position is still unknown. But one particular candidate is getting more news coverage, as well as some criticisms.

Lily Eskelsen García served as president of the National Education Association until she stepped down a few months ago. Now, there’s been an uptick in news coverage about her recently, as Biden mulls over who should be the next U.S. Education Secretary.

Earlier this week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus offered its “enthusiastic endorsement” for the former teacher union president in a letter to Biden, according to the Associated Press.

She also made headlines for receiving the endorsement of 40 national Latino groups, Newsweek reports.

However, the increased coverage opens Eskelsen García to criticisms and past blunders. Some critics have referred to a speech she gave in 2015, about  students with special needs.

A report by The 74, a non-profit news organization that focuses on education, said:

“In a list of students with diverse needs, such as the ‘hearing impaired’ and ‘physically challenged’ Eskelsen García included ‘the chronically tarded and the medically annoying.’”

“Eskelsen García apologized, saying the first was a slip of the tongue — she had meant to say ‘tardy’ — and the second was a reference to students who try to annoy their teachers when they have a bad day.”

The Center for Union Facts, non-profit organization critical of large unions, created an ad that is supposed to be scheduled in the Wall Street Journal, criticizing her stances on charter schools, calling her a “staunch opponent of school reform.”

Regardless of positive or negative coverage, a nominee with close ties to a teacher union could face backlash from those who are not in favor of unions as well as controversial charters schools and voucher programs.

Charter schools are public, but are usually run privately, and voucher programs provide taxpayer dollars to send children to private schools rather than public schools.

Much will depend on whether the Democrats or Republicans have control of the U.S. Senate, which confirms nominees. Two Georgia U.S. senators are in runoffs in January, which would impact the control of the Senate.

Current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been a polarizing figure, and many public school educators will be relieved to see DeVos leave the job.

The Education Secretary oversees the U.S. Department of Education, which handles everything federal dollars to schools and early learning initiatives, among other programs.

Public school enrollment, by race, has shifted over the years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, with white and Black students declining and Hispanic students on the rise in public schools.

Currently, the nation’s school population in 2020 is 46.1 percent white; 15 percent Black; 27.5 percent Hispanic, 5.5 percent Asian, and 4.5 percent two or more races.