New York’s senators split in the vote Monday to confirm John B. King Jr. as secretary of the U.S. Department of Education amid controversy over his support for Common Core when he was New York State’s education commissioner.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior Democratic senator, voted for President Barack Obama’s nominee, whose most important task will be to put into effect a new law designed to shift more decision-making to state and local authorities.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, however, voted no.
“John King’s tenure in New York was very adversarial, leaving families, students and teachers without a voice on important issues and therefore I cannot support his nomination at this time,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
Senators voted 49-40 to approve King as Education secretary for the last 10 months of the Obama administration.
“We have urgent work to do,” King said at his Feb. 25 confirmation hearing, promising to work to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act by the 2017-18 school year.
“The new law preserves the critical federal role to ensure guardrails to protect civil rights,” he said. “But the locus of decision making is rightly shifting back to states and districts away from the one-size-fits-all mandates of No Child Left Behind.”
Before the vote, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) urged his colleagues to reject King because he was a proponent of Common Core when he led New York schools.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate committee that approved King’s nomination in a 16-6 vote, argued for King’s confirmation.
“We need an Education secretary confirmed by and accountable to the Senate so that the law that 85 of us voted for to fix No Child Left Behind can be implemented the way we wrote it,” Alexander said.
King served as New York State’s education commissioner from 2011 to 2014. He left New York in January 2015 to become a principal senior adviser to then Secretary Arne Duncan and became acting secretary in October.