Education Secretary Arne Duncan intends to step down in December, a White House official confirmed to National Journal.
President Obama will announce on Friday that Duncan will give up his title and that the president has asked John B. King Jr., the current acting Deputy Secretary of Education, to serve as his replacement.
The president does not plan to formally nominate King to take the top spot at the Education Department, a process that would subject King to a potentially contentious confirmation by Congress. Instead, King is expected to serve as acting Secretary of Education, a title that would allow him to helm the department without going through a formal confirmation. Janet Bass, a spokesperson from the American Federation of Teachers said the organization—which had been critical of King’s tenure as New York State education commissioner—will release a statement later in the day.
Very few of Obama’s original cabinet members remain. With Duncan stepping down, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the president’s chief of staff Denis McDonough and Shaun Donovan, the former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and current head of the Office of Management and Budget, are all that are left as cabinet members who have served since the start of Obama’s presidency.
Duncan notified Department of Education staff of his intended resignation in a letter, a copy of which was obtained by National Journal. Duncan referred to the news as “bittersweet,” saying: “Serving the President in the work of expanding opportunity for students throughout this country has been the greatest honor of my life.”
Duncan explained that separation from his family ultimately led to his decision. “It’s with real sadness that [I] have come to recognize that being apart from my family has become too much of a strain, and it is time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance. I haven’t talked with anyone about what I’ll do next, and probably won’t for a little while – I’m simply returning to Chicago to live with my family. I imagine my next steps will continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children, but I have no idea what that will look like yet.” Duncan noted in the letter that he has been commuting “for several months” to and from his family in Chicago and his job in Washington, D.C.
Duncan’s tenure as secretary has inspired vitriol from both teachers’ unions and school choice activists, along with an intense sense of loyalty from his staff and supporters. In a recent interview with Politico, Undersecretary for Education Ted Mitchell choked up while talking about his experience working for Duncan. “I can’t let you leave without telling you what a privilege it has been to work with Arne,” he said.