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Former Education Secretary John King Announces Bid for Maryland Governor

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 4/20/2021 Lauren Camera
John King wearing a suit and tie: FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, file photo, then-Education Secretary John King Jr. speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington. John King, Jr., who served as U.S. education secretary in former President Barack Obama’s administration, announced Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, he is forming a political nonprofit organization called Strong Future Maryland to focus on battling systemic racism. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) © (Susan Walsh/AP-File) FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, file photo, then-Education Secretary John King Jr. speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington. John King, Jr., who served as U.S. education secretary in former President Barack Obama’s administration, announced Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, he is forming a political nonprofit organization called Strong Future Maryland to focus on battling systemic racism. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Former Education Secretary John King, who served under the Obama administration and has spent his entire career in the K-12 education space, is running for governor of Maryland, he announced Tuesday morning.

If elected, he would be the first Black governor of Maryland.

King, who's spent the last four years as president and CEO of The Education Trust focusing on education inequality, is drawing on his vast experience as an educator to bolster his campaign – and he's already drawing some big name endorsements.

"He's been an educator all his life – a teacher, a principal," former President Barack Obama said, endorsing King in the opening to a campaign video posted to social media. "He shares our commitment to preparing every child for success."

In introducing himself to voters in Maryland who may not know him, he shares a personal story in the campaign video that many in the education community know by heart.

"Schools saved my life," he said. "Both my parents passed away when I was a kid, my mom when I was 8 and my dad when I was 12. The thing that saved me was I was blessed to have phenomenal public school teachers who made school a place that was safe and compelling and engaging. That put me on a trajectory to becoming a teacher, a principal and having the opportunities I've had."

At a time of national reckoning over the impact of systemic racism and inequality, King, who lives 25 miles from where his great-grandfather was enslaved, is seeking to push the deeply Democratic state on issues he says the General Assembly hasn't sufficiently addressed, including increased funding for the state's poorest neighborhoods.

Last year, King raised more than $1 million to launch a policy advocacy organization, Strong Future Maryland, aimed at dismantling racism in the state's education, economic and climate policies.

"That vision of a more just society takes me back to standing in a cabin in Gaithersburg where my great grandfather and his family were enslaved," he said. "I think about how they lived with faith in a future they could not see, and we are in a position to realize those hopes and try to make a difference."

"My job as governor will be to make sure we set a tone as a state," he said, "that we realize we have a common destiny. That means we have to work hard to address systematic inequality."

Prior to serving as education secretary, King was the commissioner of New York State public schools and oversaw K-12 education there during a period of tumultuous change driven largely by the state's winning of a federal grant under the Obama-era Race to the Top program. He supervised the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, new teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores and the expansion of charter schools – and tussled with the teachers union along the way.

Early in his education career, King founded a charter school just outside Boston – the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School – that became the highest performing urban middle school in Massachusetts. He helped open several others in New York City as the managing director of Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit charter management organization that focuses on closing achievement gaps and preparing low-income students for college.

"The great thing about the idea of a teacher as governor is that teachers know we have to start with listening to our students, seeing each of our students as whole people," King said. "That's how governors should think."

King is running to succeed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is term-limited.

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