Former Education Secretary King named SUNY chancellor

Dec 5, 2022, 12:21 AM | Updated: 2:55 pm

Former U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr. has been appointed chancellor of the State University of New York, the nation’s largest university system, SUNY announced Monday.

King is scheduled to begin in January at a salary of a $750,000. The appointment marks a return to New York for King, who was the state’s education commissioner during the contentious rollout of the Common Core learning standards meant to elevate K-12 academics across states.

The unanimous vote by the SUNY Board of Trustees in Albany fills an opening left by the resignation of James Malatras a year ago in fallout from the investigation of former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Malatras stepped down after the release of text messages showing he mocked one of the women who later accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.

“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. John King has a proven record of doing both,” SUNY Chairman Merryl Tisch said in a statement.

King served as President Barack Obama’s education secretary in the last year of his presidency, advocating for a federal-state partnership to make attendance at community colleges free.

In 2020, King and other alumni of the administration formed the political group Strong Future Maryland, which led to an unsuccessful campaign for Maryland governor earlier this year.

As education commissioner from 2011 to 2015, King fielded criticism over the uneven rollout of the Common Core standards across the state’s 700 K-12 districts and clashed with teachers’ unions over efforts to link student test scores to teacher evaluations.

On Monday, New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said the union would work with King to “ensure that our campuses and the educators serving on them receive the critical funding and support they deserve.”

Both of King’s parents died before he was 12, and he credits public schools in New York City with giving him hope and purpose.

“Public education quite literally saved my life when I lost both of my parents at a young age, and I have dedicated my professional career ever since to ensuring that every student has access to the academic opportunities that they need and deserve,” King, who was New York’s first Black and Puerto Rican education commissioner, said in a written statement.

As chancellor, he wants to resume previous efforts to leverage federal Perkins funding to enable K-12 schools, colleges and employers to work together on a high school curriculum tailored toward the needs of the workforce, according to SUNY, which enrolls about 370,000 students across 64 campuses.

SUNY Student Assembly President Alexandria Chun said King has proven his commitment to students’ needs.

“As student debt has grown over the past few decades into a national crisis, he has shown time and again that he prioritizes college affordability as a platform for future success, closing opportunity gaps for students of color and low-income students, and excellence in education,” Chun said.

United University Professions, the union representing more than 37,000 employees of SUNY and its teaching hospitals, said it hoped King would strongly advocate for more state funding.

“UUP shares Dr. King’s commitment to equity and excellence for all students and making a college education affordable and accessible,” UUP President Frederick Kowal said. “These are attributes we believe SUNY’s new chancellor must have to be effective.”

King has been president of the nonprofit Education Trust since 2017. The Washington, D.C., think tank advocates for access to high quality education for low-income students and students of color.

A former classroom teacher, he has degrees from Harvard University, Columbia University’s Teachers College and Yale Law School.


Thompson reported from Buffalo, New York.

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