Education in America - Buckley Institute

Education in America

Panel on Education in America with Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr., Heritage Foundation's Lindsey Burke, and AEI Senior Fellow Robert Pondiscio

Date & Time
October 5, 2023 | 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm
WLH 116
100 Wall St,
New Haven, CT
This event is free and open to the public.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. is a lifelong educator, having begun his career in education teaching Social Studies and coaching baseball in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system in 1994. He then served as an Assistant Principal from 2007 to 2013 until becoming the Chief Operating Officer at Doral College. He was appointed Commissioner of Education by the Florida State Board of Education effective June 1, 2022.

Commissioner Diaz received his Bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas University, a Master’s degree in education from Nova Southeastern, and completed a Harvard Graduate School of Education program for principals.

He served with distinction in the Florida Legislature, originally elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012, where he quickly became known as an expert and champion of education. During his tenure in the Florida House of Representatives, he served as Chairman of both the Education Choice and Innovation Committee and the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. In 2018, he was elected to the Florida Senate where he served as Chairman of the Education Committee. During his legislative career he sponsored numerous educational initiatives to support Florida’s students, families, and public-school teachers.

A devoted husband and father of four, he understands the importance and value of providing students with a world-class education and is honored to continue serving Florida as the Commissioner of Education.


Robert Pondiscio is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he focuses on K–12 education, curriculum, teaching, school choice, and charter schooling.

Before joining AEI, Mr. Pondiscio was a policy analyst and education reform expert at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank. He previously worked for the Core Knowledge Foundation and as an adviser and civics teacher at Democracy Prep Public Schools. Mr. Pondiscio became interested in education policy issues when he started teaching fifth grade at a struggling South Bronx public school in 2002. Before that, he worked in journalism for 20 years, including in senior positions at Time and BusinessWeek.

Mr. Pondiscio is the author of many books, including “How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle over School Choice” (Avery, 2019), which is about Success Academy Charter Schools and was widely reviewed and praised. He is the coauthor of a bestselling series of books for young readers, including “The Ultimate On-Line Homework Helper” (HarperCollins, 1996) and “Kids On-Line” (HarperCollins, 1995). In addition, he is the author of “The Future: An Owner’s Manual” (Harper Trophy, 2000) and “Get on the Net” (HarperCollins, 1999).

Mr. Pondiscio has been extensively published in the popular press, including in The Atlantic, Education Next, the New York Daily News, and The Wall Street Journal. As a frequent speaker, he is often interviewed on radio and television to discuss education issues. His appearances include CNN, Fox News Channel, and hundreds of local TV and radio programs.

Mr. Pondiscio has an MS in elementary education from Mercy College and a BA in English from SUNY Empire State College.


Lindsey Burke is the Director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, where she oversees Heritage’s research and policy on issues pertaining to preschool, K-12, and higher education reform. Burke’s research has been presented at academic conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals including Social Science Quarterly, Educational Research and Evaluation, and the Journal of School Choice, and her commentary and op-eds have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. She is a frequent guest on radio and television shows and speaks on education reform issues across the country and internationally. She has published evaluations of education choice options for public policy foundations across the country and has done extensive work shaping and evaluating education savings accounts (ESAs).

In 2021, Burke was tapped to join Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s transition steering committee and was also appointed to serve on the Youngkin landing team for education. Burke was also appointed by Governor Youngkin to serve on the Board of Visitors for George Mason University. Her term runs from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2026.

Burke also serves as a fellow at EdChoice, the namesake foundation of Milton and Rose Friedman, on the national advisory board of Learn4Life, a network of public charter schools serving “opportunity youth,” on the board of the Educational Freedom Institute, on the advisory board of the Independent Women’s Forum’s Education Freedom Center, and as a Trustee of Choice Media.

In 2022, Burke was honored to receive The Heritage Foundation's President's Award for striving to build an enduring organization. In 2015, Burke won Heritage’s prestigious W. Glenn and Rita Ricardo Campbell Award in recognition of her work fighting for expanded education choice options. The award is given annually to a policy expert who has made “an outstanding contribution to the analysis and promotion of a free society.”

Burke holds a bachelor's degree in Politics from Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, and a master of teaching degree in Foreign Language Education from the University of Virginia. She earned her Ph.D. in Education Policy from George Mason University, where she examined the intersection of education choice and institutional theory.

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