Well, that didn't take long.
John King was in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and while King may be the new Secretary of Education, it was Sen. Lamar Alexander who took him to school.
Alexander starts with a history lesson. He reminds King that Alexander supported the Secretary's appointment so that ESSA could be properly implemented. And he provides a reminder of why ESSA passage was a big deal, and why it was possible to bring together one of the most wide-ranging coalitions ever to pass it.
The reason we were able to achieve such unusual unanimity and consensus is that people had gotten tired of the Department of Education telling them so much of what they ought to be doing.
It wasn’t just Republicans or governors who were fed up, it was school superintendents, teachers, principals, parents, state legislatures, school boards, and chief state school officers.
Point-- the USED was acting like the nation's school board, ignoring all outside voices, and pissing off everyone. Everyone.
Which brings him to his actual point:
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.
Alexander then zeros in on the idea of compatibility and the slightly arcane art of computing per pupil expenditures and whether or not the process should include teacher salaries.
You can go look up the details; they're already being well covered. I'm interested in the bigger picture, which is that King got caught trying to rewrite the law, and Alexander called him on it in very clear language.
But here’s what your department did on April 1 – you tried to do what Congress wouldn’t do in Comparability by regulating another separate provision in the law.
In a negotiated rulemaking session, your department proposed a rule that would do exactly what the law says it shall not do
He lists off the specific problems of what the department proposed (including a complex and costly massive mess) and then returns to the heart of the matter:
But I’m not interested in debating today whether what you’ve proposed is a good idea or a bad one – the plain fact of the matter is that the law specifically says you cannot do it.
Not only is what you’re doing against the law, the way you’re trying to do it is against another provision in the law.
And the Senator is not having it. He notes that a December Politico story quoted Duncan saying that USED lawyers are smarter than the lawmakers. But "we in Congress are smart enough to anticipate your lawyers' attempts to rewrite the law."
And then Alexander moves directly to the threat stage.
He promises to use every power of Congress "to make sure the law is implemented the way we wrote it." If the USED tries to force states to follow the lawbreaking regulations, he will encourage the state ask for a hearing-- and if they lose, he will suggest they take the department to court.
Bottom line-- Alexander is making it clear right up front that the law will be implemented the way it was written, or else.
John King was going to repair the USED terrible, terrible relationship with Congress. That does not seem to be going well. Who could have predicted that John King would try to do whatever he damn well pleased regardless of what other stakeholders said or did? Oh, that's right-- pretty much everyone in New York State would have predicted it.
King looks to be cut from the same cloth as Arne Duncan, but Lamar Alexander seems determined not to go down that same road again. These are definitely going to be interesting days ahead.
(PS- Just in case there was any doubt that this was meant to be a public spanking, all of the above comes directly from the Senate committee's press release.)