National Latino groups endorse former Utah teacher as education secretary

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Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, holds her granddaughter, Lily Jo Eskelsen, at the annual Utah Education Association convention at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.

(Kristin Murphy, KSL)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A coalition of more than 40 national Latino groups is urging President-elect Joe Biden to appoint former National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia the next secretary of education.

A letter by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda obtained by KSL says Eskelsen Garcia "is the ideal candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Education in a new direction from the previous destructive practices and policies of the Trump administration."

The letter touts her experience as a public school teacher, union leader and her "long history of promoting equity and civil rights in schools." Prior to serving six years as the leader of the nation's largest teacher union and other NEA leadership positions, Eskelsen Garcia was president of the Utah Education Association and a Utah public school teacher.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda's letter said Eskelsen Garcia's appointment "would reinforce the Biden administration's promise to invest in our country's youth and work to dismantle systemic racism in our schools."

But the Center for Union Facts, which said it plans to publish a full-page advertisement in the Washington, D.C., edition of The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, calling out Eskelsen Garcia for prioritizing teacher union interests over students.

"Someone who refers to credible and beneficial school reforms as 'the mark of the devil' has no place calling the shots on the future of education in this country. Eskelsen Garcia's opposition to performance assessments and charter schools has much more to do with protecting teachers unions' selfish interests than doing what's best for students. Her efforts to diminish competition and accountability in our education system may be cheered by her union supporters, but it will cost students dearly," according to a statement released by the center.

The Center for Union Facts is nonprofit organization "dedicated to showing Americans the truth about today's union leadership," according to its website.

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If selected by the Biden administration, Eskelsen García would be the first Latina appointed to serve as education secretary.

"Latino students now make up greater than one-quarter of all public school students from kindergarten through 12th grade nationwide. Nominating a Latina secretary of education would make an important statement about the critical importance of the growing and significant Latino student population," the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda letter states.

The coalition includes the Hispanic Federation, UnidosUS, the League of United Latin American Citizens and Mi Familia Vota and others.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also has been mentioned as a top candidate for the role.

Others contenders, according to national press reports, include superintendents of major school districts: Sonja Brookins Santelises, of Baltimore City Public Schools; Janice Jackson, of Chicago Public Schools; and William Hite, of the School District of Philadelphia.

Tony Thurmond, California's superintendent of public instruction; Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., and a former national teacher of the year; Betty Rosa, New York state's interim commissioner of education; and Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau are also under consideration, according to the Washington Post.

Shortly after the election, Linda Darling-Hammond, education professor emeritus at Stanford University and president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, emerged as a possible contender but she has withdrawn her name from consideration.

Should Eskelsen Garcia be appointed to the Cabinet post, she would be the second Utahn to hold the post. Terrel H. Bell served as education secretary during the Reagan administration.

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