President Barack Obama has announced his nomination for the post of Secretary of Education, naming John B. King Jr. to the role in which he has served temporarily since the beginning of the year.
"Since joining the Department of Education, John has worked to build on the progress our country has made in expanding opportunity for all of our children," said Obama in a statement. "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."
According to White House officials, he was encouraged by the bipartisan support King received from members of Congress, in particular a commitment by Senator Lamar Alexander, who personally pushed Obama to formally nominate King back in December. King took the position of acting head of the department after previous education secretary Arne Duncan stepped down at the end of the last year. The original plan had King remaining in that role throughout the rest of Obama's time in office.
Alexander had told Obama that he would personally ensure that King made it through the nomination process and that he believed King would receive GOP support "barring some sort of ethical lapse" uncovered during the nomination process. Alexander added that he believes the support of the US Senate is important for King to have as he steps into a role that would see him implementing a new law governing elementary and secondary education, writes Danielle Douglas-Gabriel for The Washington Post.
The Obama administration would like to see King comfortable in his new role before Congress begins to reauthorize higher education legislation.
An overhaul of federal education policy was passed by Congress in December that would reduce the amount of power the federal government held over schools across the country, giving that power instead to state and local officials. It remains up to the Education Department to create regulations to implement the law, and currently tensions are high among those who would like Obama administration policies included in the regulations and those in Congress who would like to see the administration's influence limited.
While federal law does allow for an "acting" Cabinet secretary, it also says that person should not hold the position for longer than 210 days. For King, that would mean until July 29.
King was the son of New York City educators, but became an orphan at age 12. He gives credit to his public school teachers for putting him on the path that led to degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. Afterward, he founded a successful charter school in Boston and became the first African American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York state education commissioner in 2011.
He became a member of Obama's administration last year as "senior advisor delegated duties of deputy secretary of education," in which he oversaw federal education programs for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.