Michelle Rhee, who once led a series of sweeping reform efforts as the Chancellor of the District of Columbia’s public education system, is at the top of presumptive President-elect Joe Biden‘s shortlist to lead the Department of Education. She would be the first Korean American to serve in a cabinet position.
Rhee is well known for advancing a bold reform agenda for public education that includes performance bonuses for teachers, standardized testing, and real-time data monitoring systems.
Rhee comes highly recommended by former Senator Joe Lieberman, whom Biden is considering naming as a co-chair of his transition team. Lieberman has been advising Biden informally and is one of many names being considered for White House Chief of Staff.
Many of Biden’s most prominent supporters — including former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who paid $600 million to help him get elected — want Biden to repurpose federal funding for urban bussing. Instead, they want that money to be used to help resurrect the ‘neighborhood school model’ in America’s inner cities.
“Our public schools are as segregated now as they’ve ever been,” explains Monica DeWitt, a North Buffalo voter and a mother of three. “To force kids on a bus for two hours a day because it makes some ivory tower profession feel kind of way about race relations in America, but’s asinine in real-world practice.”
If the goal is racially diverse schools, she wonders why the federal government continues to fund bussing when it hasn’t made our schools anymore diverse.
“These federal policies have forced middle-class families out of the city, exacerbating suburban sprawl, and reinforcing our socio-spatial segregation patterns,” she adds. “Unless you can afford private schools, you have to move to the suburbs.”
Others in the Democratic Party have called for an expansion of federal funding for bussing programs that aim to racially integrate innercity schools. Many in the Congressional Black Caucus have called for federal legislation that requires countywide school integration — perhaps even mandating countywide school districts.
It’s unclear what form those racial integration policies might take, given that States are largely responsible for public education.