John B. King Jr. also served as the state's education...

John B. King Jr. also served as the state's education commissioner under former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.  Credit: Philip Kamrass

John B. King Jr., who served as secretary of education under former President Barack Obama, was appointed Monday as the 15th chancellor of the State University of New York.

King, 47, whose efforts to tighten student testing standards as New York's state education commissioner led to widespread opposition, was unanimously selected chancellor after a yearlong search by the SUNY board of trustees.

He begins Jan. 17, replacing Deborah Stanley, former president of SUNY Oswego, who has been interim chancellor since the December 2021 resignation of Jim Malatras. King will earn a $750,000 salary.

"SUNY has tremendous opportunity to be an engine of economic development and economic mobility in the state," King told Newsday in an interview. "And we want to make sure that there are programs well matched to regional workforce needs on Long Island and throughout the state … SUNY Stony Brook is the incredible flagship of the system and we want to make sure we continue to invest in that and attract research doctors."

What to know

  • Former federal Education Secretary John B. King Jr. was appointed Monday as the 15th chancellor of the State University of New York.
  • King previously served as New York's state education commissioner, during which he faced criticism for his implementation of the Common Core curriculum, sparking hundreds of thousands of students to opt out of standardized exams.
  • King, who currently serves as president of The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, starts in the new role Jan. 17.

King, a former teacher who lost both of his parents at a young age, will be the first chancellor of Puerto Rican decent for SUNY, the nation’s largest public college system. He pledged Monday to improve support for low-income students of color and to increase access to child care on SUNY campuses.

There are five SUNY schools on Long Island — Farmingdale State College, Stony Brook, SUNY Old Westbury and Nassau and Suffolk community colleges.

In an email to students Monday, SUNY Old Westbury President Timothy Sams said King will be a "true champion for our university system. I know that among the many issues that keep him up at night is equity in public schools and colleges."

SUNY officials said King was selected based on his experience in education administration at the local, state and federal levels.

"As we work to continue to transform SUNY to meet the needs of the next generation of students and New York’s economy, we need a leader who understands how to balance striving for both excellence and equity," said SUNY Chairman Merryl Tisch. "John King has a proven record of doing both."

In a statement, Gov. Kathy Hochul said King's experience, "combined with deep New York roots, make him an ideal leader for the SUNY system."

King, who grew up in Brooklyn, served as the state education commissioner from 2011 to 2015 but faced harsh criticism from parents, teachers' unions and Republican lawmakers as he pushed more stringent student testing tied to teacher evaluations as part of adherence to the Common Core national academic standards. 

A parent-led statewide testing boycott stemming from the Common Core standards developed into the largest movement of its type in the nation, with hundreds of thousands of students statewide in grades three through eight, including on Long Island, opting out of state standardized exams.

King's return to New York is a "disappointing" return to the past, said Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, founder of Long Island Opt Out.

"We spent years trying to fix the failed reform policies that he had put in," she said, "and so we're now concerned with what he will do with the SUNY system."

In 2014, King ordered the Hempstead School District to hold a new election for a contested seat in response to accusations of fraud, coercion and abuse of the absentee balloting process.

President Barack Obama selected King as secretary of education in 2016 and he served through 2017.

"John King helped lead our fight for expanded access to higher education for every American and to ensure that all students had the support they needed to finish college," Valerie Jarrett, a former senior White House adviser to Obama and the CEO of the Obama Foundation, said in a statement. "He championed the role of community colleges, connected them to the needs of today's workforce, and helped lead the effort across the administration to lift up young men and boys of color." 

King ran for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor in the state's 2022 primary but came in sixth place.

He is currently the president of The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization. 

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