Obama Is One Step Closer To Officially Having A New Education Secretary

John King Jr.'s nomination only has to go through one more vote.
Susan Walsh/Associated Press

It looks like acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. may not be acting for much longer.

On Wednesday morning, the Senate education committee voted 16-6 to confirm King as the nation's education boss. King's nomination will soon be brought to the Senate for a full vote.

King has technically served as education secretary since the beginning of 2016 after long-serving Cabinet member Arne Duncan stepped down. At the time, the White House intentionally forwent an official nomination process, fearing it could be potentially long and polarizing. After getting pledges from lawmakers to give it a fair go, the Obama administration decided to formally nominate King in early February.

King stepped into the education secretary role just a few weeks after Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. The legislation, which replaces the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, is a far-reaching law that could have a sweeping impact on schools. Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he urged the president to formally nominate King due to the passage of the new law.

"The new bipartisan law fixing No Child Left Behind represents a dramatic change in direction for federal education policy, but we know a law’s not worth the paper it’s printed on unless it is implemented properly," Alexander said in a statement. "I urged the president to send the Senate a nominee for education secretary, and after today’s vote, we are a step closer to having a confirmed secretary who will be accountable to Congress as we work together to ensure the new law is implemented just as Congress wrote it."

While King's confirmation process has so far gone relatively smoothly, he was a polarizing figure in his previous role as New York state education commissioner. King served in the role from 2011 to 2014, until he became a senior official with the U.S. Department of Education.

As head of New York's education system, King championed the Common Core State Standards, a set of contentious education benchmarks that have been adopted in a majority of states. Under King's leadership, the Common Core Standards and associated standardized tests were implemented in the state's classrooms. Parents and education groups who complained that the standards were haphazardly applied called on King to resign.

The White House has emphasized King's compelling personal history. Both of King's parents died at a young age, and he often talks about how teachers were pivotal to his success.

"I grew up in Brooklyn, I lost my mom when I was 8, my dad when I was 12," King said at an October press conference. "New York City public school teachers are the reason that I am alive."