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Senate Vote: 36     Vote Date: Mar 14th, 2016

Issue: PN1152 John B. King, of New York, to be Secretary of Education.  Question: On the Nomination.

Result: Confirmed by Senate, 49 to 40, 11 not voting. GOP and Democrats scored.

Freedom First Society: President Obama nominated John B. King to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. King had been Acting Deputy Secretary of Education throughout 2015.  Seven GOP Senators, including Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, supported King’s confirmation, pushing it over the top.

We must first emphasize that the Constitution does not authorize the Federal Government to have any role in state-run education and Congress should be voting on phasing out the Department of Education. Nevertheless, given the Department’s unconstitutional existence, someone must fill the top dog spot for the department, mustn’t he?

Perhaps, but those Senators who voted against John B. King’s confirmation were nevertheless correct, and not just because of King’s heavy handed track record in education (e.g., King was one of the earliest supporters of Common Core as New York State Commissioner of Education.) (Note: the only Democratic Senator to oppose King’s confirmation was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York.)

No, King’s nomination should have been voted down, because many Senators, including the Republican chairman of the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Lamar Alexander, were depending on King to implement a purported change in direction in federal education policy from the heavily criticized “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.”

That change, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), approved by Congress and President Obama in December of 2015, was merely smoke and mirrors.   See, e.g., our analysis of S. 1177 (House Roll Call 665, 12-2-15) and Senator Mike Lee’s (R-UT) comments below during the Senate “debate” over King’s nomination.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Analysis: In her endorsement of King during the Senate debate, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) provided an unintended indictment of Federal management of education:

Secretary of Education must be one of the most difficult jobs in Washington because for years there has been some kind of problem at the Department of Education that has made it practically impossible to get the Department to put the interests of students ahead of the interests of private contractors and for-profit colleges that are making the big money off our students.

Warren then proceeded to cite several horrific scandals that had resisted improvement. As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, she was in a position to know.

The Committee Chair, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander (TN), and sponsor of the Every Student Succeeds Act, argued:

The reason we are voting today is because we need a U.S. Education Secretary confirmed by and accountable to the U.S. Senate so that the law to fix No Child Left Behind will be implemented the way Congress wrote it….

That law was passed with broad bipartisan support. It passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 85 to 12. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 359 to 64.

We achieved that result because, as Newsweek said, No Child Left Behind was a law everybody wanted fixed and fixing it was long overdue. Governors, teachers, superintendents, parents, Republicans, Democrats, and students all wanted No Child Left Behind fixed….

This new law is a dramatic change in direction for Federal education policy. In short, it reverses the trend toward what had become a national school board and restores to those closest to children the responsibility for their well-being and academic success.

The Wall Street Journal called the new Every Student Succeeds Act “the largest devolution of federal control of schools from Washington back to the states in a quarter of a century.”…

The Senate Education Committee, which I chair … will hold at least six hearings to oversee implementation of the new law. All of those hearings will be bipartisan, as our hearings almost always are.

We already held the first hearing on February 23 with representatives of many of the groups who worked together to pass the law, and now they are working together to implement the law. They already formed a coalition made up of the National Governors Association, the School Superintendents Association, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Parent Teacher Association, with the support of the Chief State School Officers.

At first glance, Senator Alexander cites impressive diverse support for ESSA. But on closer examination, that diversity falls apart. Bipartisan support generally just means that the leadership of both parties have combined to implement an Establishment program. Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal are both Establishment media sources.

And the mentioned coalition includes groups at the forefront of the drive to nationalize education (such as the National Education Association) and many official-sounding private foundations created to guide, propagandize, and then represent government officials in support of the Establishment agenda. (See, for example, the video “Getting to the Core of Common Core” on YouTube.)

Champions of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) deceptively promoted it as a change in direction in federal control over elementary and secondary education. In particular, they falsely hyped ESSA as returning a large measure of policy control over education to the states. In reality, ESSA cemented such control in federal hands.

During an interview with Politico, retiring Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was asked: “How do you respond to the notion that you’ve had your wings clipped on your way out the door?”

Amazingly, Duncan boasted:  “… candidly, our lawyers are much smarter than many of the folks [in Congress] who were working on this bill. There are some face-saving things you give up, some talking points that you give up, which we always do because we’re focused on substance. And we have every ability to implement. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Not surprisingly, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee has supported King’s confirmation, would later complain in a press release [4-16-16] that King was not relinquishing federal control under the new law:

Today, we’re holding our second hearing of at least six to oversee the implementation of this law and already we are seeing disturbing evidence of an Education Department that is ignoring the law that each of this committee’s 22 members worked so hard to craft.

We agree with much of Senator Lee (R-UT) objections to King’s confirmation during the Senate “debate”:

[L]ast week the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted to advance President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Dr. John King. Tonight the nomination is set to come before the Senate not for a robust debate but for a hasty vote, and by all accounts confirmation is expected.

I rise to oppose the nomination of Dr. King and to urge my colleagues to join me in voting against his confirmation as Secretary of Education. I have studied Dr. King’s professional record–most notably, his time in New York’s Department of Education. I have reviewed the transcripts of his confirmation hearing. Based on the policies he has supported, the bipartisan opposition he has invited throughout his career, and his uncompromising commitment to the designs of bureaucrats and central planners over the lived experiences of parents and teachers, I believe it would be a grave error for the Senate to confirm Dr. King’s nomination at this time….

More to the point, what matters aren’t the jobs someone has held but the policies that person has advanced. This is the problem with Dr. King’s nomination.

Look closely at his record, especially look closely at the 3\1/2\ years he spent as New York’s education commissioner, where he forced on an unwilling school system unpopular Common Core curriculum and standards, an inflexible testing regime, and a flawed teacher evaluation system.

All of this proves that Dr. King is the standard bearer of No Child Left Behind — the discredited K-12 regime that has become synonymous with dysfunctional education policy in classrooms and households all across America. This is not just my opinion. It was the opinion of New York’s parents, teachers, legislators, school board members, and superintendents. The vast majority of them opposed and protested against Dr. King and the policies he championed while at the helm of the State’s education department.

This Congress and President Obama have promised to move Federal education policy in the opposite direction established by No Child Left Behind. Under these circumstances, Dr. King–the embodiment of the failed K-12 status quo — is not the person who should be put in charge of the Department of Education. If confirmed, Dr. King would serve as the head of the Department of Education for 10 months, until January 2017, when the next President is sworn into office. This may sound like an insignificant amount of time for a Cabinet Secretary to serve, but in reality the next 10 months are crucially important to the future of Federal education policy in America….

I urge all of my colleagues to join me in voting against this nomination.

Not surprisingly, despite Lee’s reasoned appeal, all of the voting Democrats voted to confirm with the exception of the aforementioned Gillibrand of New York. But particularly revealing, as noted earlier, seven GOP senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, provided the margin needed for the confirmation.