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Senate Confirms John B. King Jr. as Education Secretary

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 14, 2016 2 min read
John B. King Jr., will take over on an acting basis from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who leaves office in December.
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The U.S. Senate voted to confirm John B. King Jr. as the U.S. Secretary of Education on Monday by a vote of 49-40.

King had been serving as acting secretary since the start of this year— he took over for former secretary Arne Duncan, who had overseen the U.S. Department of Education since 2009.

Last week, the Senate education committee voted 16-6 to approve his nomination by President Barack Obama. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the committee, respectively, voted in favor of King.

King began serving as a senior adviser to Duncan at the start of 2015. He previously served as the commissioner of education in New York state from 2011 to 2014, where he oversaw the state’s transition to the Common Core State Standards and new standardized assessment. While the state’s EngageNY curriculum developed for the common core garnered national praise, the state teachers’ union and other education advocates became vigorous opponents of King’s approach to policy and his relationships with educators.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Alexander stressed how the new Every Student Succeeds Act significantly curtails the role of the federal government across the spectrum of education policy.

“We need an education secretary confirmed by and accountable to the United States Senate” in order to ensure that ESSA “is implemented the way we wrote it,” Alexander said.

And Murray said that King’s experience working in schools and in educational leadership made him a strong candidate for the office: “Dr. John King has a longstanding commitment to fighting for kids. Through his personal background, he knows first-hand the power that education can have in a student’s life.”

However, King’s nomination did get some pushback. Before the vote Monday ,the conservative Heritage Action Committee urged senators to vote no on King, and criticized his record as New York state education commissioner on issues related to the common core and testing.

“While King has been serving as acting secretary, and will most likely continue in that role until the end of the Obama administration, the Republican-controlled Senate has no excuse for putting their stamp of approval on a Secretary of Education who sides with common core over school choice, data mining over student privacy, and central planning over local control,” Heritage Action said in its statement.

Testing opt-out advocates have also pushed against King’s nomination in recent weeks, writing in an open letter that, “The American public deserves a Secretary of Education who will advocate for their interests, not those of the testing corporations who profit from the common core. We also deserve a secretary who respects the importance of schools governed by communities, not by federal mandate.”