The U.S. Senate voted Monday to confirm Dr. John B. King as the new Secretary of Education. King has served as the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) since the previous secretary, Arne Duncan, left his post in January. King served as Duncan’s highest ranking advisor prior to taking the reins as acting secretary.
The confirmation of King as secretary is especially noteworthy in light of the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); King will oversee the implementation of the new law. While many in the Republican party expressed concern over King’s policy positions, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) took to the Senate floor to stress the importance of filling the role. He told senators that it was important to have an education secretary who is “confirmed by and accountable to the United States Senate” in order to ensure ESSA is implemented as the Senate intended. Alexander also assured the body that under the law King would have no opportunity to push the Common Core standards, which were a hot topic among Republicans during debate.
There was both bipartisan support for and opposition to King’s confirmation. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who represents King’s home state, joined the group of 40 senators, otherwise consisting of Republicans, to oppose his nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had previously expressed uncertainty with regard to how King would handle policies on student loans and for-profit colleges, but she ultimately joined the group of 49 senators voting to confirm King. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) supported King’s nomination while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was not present to vote.
King’s confirmation took place Monday, 25 years to the day after Chairman Alexander was confirmed to serve as Secretary of Education under former President George H.W. Bush. Read more about King’s confirmation hearing in late February here. The HELP committee advanced King’s nomination to the full senate last week.