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Senate confirms John King as Education Secretary

By Sabrina Rodriguez and Natalie Escobar   |   March 15, 2016 at 8:04 AM
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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 15 -- Acting Education Secretary John B. King Jr. was confirmed for the job late Monday in a 49-40 Senate vote.

"The reason we are voting today is because we need an education secretary who is confirmed, who is accountable to Congress," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said prior to the roll call.

Alexander encouraged senators to vote for King, even if he was not their first choice for the position. Alexander said a confirmed education secretary is critical to helping carry out the Every Student Succeeds Act, approved in December. The law overhauls No Child Left Behind and gives states and local school districts more power over primary and secondary education.

Many members of Congress have said their biggest concern with King is how he addresses implementation of the new student success law, given his previous ties to Common Core Standards.

Although King will only be in office for 10 months, his appointment could have "sweeping effects" during the implementation of ESSA, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said before the vote.

"We're doing more than a personnel appointment," Lee said.

Alexander said, "It doesn't really make a difference what Dr. King thinks of Common Core. Under the law, he doesn't have anything to do with it, whether a state chooses to adopt it or not to adopt it."

Common core standards were developed in the states by governors.

Prior to joining the Department of Education, King was New York's state education commissioner, where he was heavily involved with the implementation of Common Core.

King became deputy secretary of education under former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who stepped down at the end of 2015. Obama tapped King as acting secretary but did not formally nominate him for the top job until February.

The Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee advanced his nomination in a 16-6 vote March 9. Alexander said at the time he would back the nomination on the Senate floor.

King has been dealt tough cards in his time as head of the Education Department, responding to congressional inquiries on the agency's handling of the federal student loan program, for-profit colleges, college sexual assault and student data collection.

"Dr. King didn't create any of these problems," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a HELP Committee member. "These problems have grown and festered over time."

Warren is a strong critic of the Education Department for how it has handled student loan creditors and for-profit colleges. She said she has been in talks with King for weeks and knows he understands the work ahead of him.

"Dr. King has an enormous amount of work to do," Warren said. "The American people will be watching closely for results."

King, a controversial figure in New York education policy, helped open multiple charter schools in New York City through Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit charter group with dozens of schools in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

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