In a 49 to 40 vote, the United States Senate has approved John King, Jr. as Secretary of Education, making him the second and final person to hold the position under President Obama.
Arne Duncan, Obama’s first education secretary, announced in October that he would be leaving the position. Obama then chose King to replace him. At the time, King was deputy and advisor to Duncan, and the administration showed no concrete plans to seek his confirmation.
However, Republicans began to argue that as long as King was an unconfirmed cabinet member, he could not be held accountable. At that point, the White House put forth the nomination.
Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the education committee who previously served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, pushed for King to be confirmed. His argument stated that the education department was in need of a leader who could be held accountable while the new education law replacing the No Child Left Behind Act was being implemented nationwide.
“We need an education secretary confirmed by and accountable to the United States Senate so that the law fixing No Child Left Behind will be implemented the way Congress wrote it,” Alexander said in a statement Monday following the confirmation vote.
King has served interim secretary since Duncan stepped down at the end of 2015. Before this, he was a teacher, principal, and charter school founder, in addition to leading New York’s state education department from 2011 until 2014, at which time he became a member of the U.S. Department of Education.
Obama nominated King last month, saying that, “There is nobody better to continue leading our ongoing efforts to work toward preschool for all, prepare our kids so that they are ready for college and career, and make college more affordable.”
While King will only hold the position until Obama leaves office in January 2017, he has a lot to handle in a short period of time. It is up to the Department of Education to regulate the Every Student Succeeds Act, which has replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and places most of the authority over public schools into the hands of individual states and school districts, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
Joy Resmovits writes for The Los Angeles Times that California is concerned over the issue of whether states will be able to grade schools without assigning an overall number to them in an effort to offer a variety of metrics to parents and taxpayers without having to give a singular number. According to the law, the state must intervene in the one-third of schools that perform the lowest. They are looking to the federal law to determine whether these schools will be able to be identified without a definitive ranking of how well they are performing.
During his confirmation hearing last month, King said he would ensure the shift to local control was met. However, he added that the federal government would continue to play an important part to make sure that all children receive an adequate education, especially those who are disadvantaged.