A former teachers’ union president as the next Secretary of Education?

Lily Eskelsen-Garcia has recently made headlines as a strong contender for U.S. secretary of education under the Biden/Harris administration. Garcia most recently served as the former president of the National Education Association (NEA)—the country’s largest teachers’ union.

While filling the position with Garcia would make the teachers’ unions happy, what about the families of color who choose (because the traditional public school system has failed them) schools of choice that teachers’ unions so often oppose? Biden has promised to be a president for all Americans, but his decision could mean he would be turning his back on the low-income families and families of color who overwhelmingly support school choice. Democratic opposition to charters is dominated by white voters, according to a recent poll by Democrats for Education Reform.

We know how Garcia feels about charter schools—charter schools are “very misguided school reforms.” She has likened some school reformers to zombies that are “eating our childrens’ brains,” shares the Center for Union Facts, and “she’s attacked certain performance assessments as ‘the mark of the devil.’” Center for Union Facts concludes:

Eskelsen Garcia’s efforts to diminish competition and accountability in our education do more to promote teachers unions’ selfish interests than help students. A former union boss who opposes credible school reforms shouldn’t be in charge of the future of education.

Comments she made in a 2015 speech about special education students have resurfaced, in which she included the “chronically tarded and the medically annoying” in a list of students with diverse needs, reports Linda Jacobson with the 74. Garcia apologized, and said she meant to say “tardy,” but the disability community didn’t take it that way.

AAPD condemns this statement and the disrespect it not only shows to students with disabilities, but all Americans with disabilities. As the nation’s largest labor union, representing over three million teachers, the NEA should know better than to insult students and must do more to be inclusive of all students.

And given the Secretary of Education is responsible for implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, “advocates for students with disabilities will be looking for how she’ll approach issues related to special-needs children,” continues Jacobson.

If you are interested in Garcia’s past views on a wide range of issues outside of education, “that appear to be anathema to both her and her allies today,” check out Mike Antonucci’s article here