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Former Jeb Bush Staffer Hanna Skandera Exits Post as NM Education Chief

New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera is confirmed to have resigned her post, effective June 20.

KRQE News 13 reports on the resignation of Skandera, who served as Florida deputy education commissioner under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

In December, Politico suggested that Skandera was being considered for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s assistant secretary. In March, however, the media outlet reported that Skandera was no longer a candidate for the top post.

Skandera’s name was pulled from consideration for the position, the report said, because about a dozen Senate Republicans “were skeptical that they could ever vote yes” to confirm her, due to her support for the highly unpopular Common Core standards.

Politico reports Friday that Skandera is being viewed as a “national leader in the movement” for education reform, which began with Common Core and has continued with the Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA), the education law that replaced No Child Left Behind and was approved overwhelmingly by establishment Republicans and Democrats, as well as former President Barack Obama:

Skandera’s departure announcement sparked an outpouring of praise Thursday from education reform advocates, who see her as a national leader in the movement. New Mexico’s path to improvement under Skandera’s leadership wasn’t without controversy – teachers unions sued her over the state teacher evaluation system. “Fundamentally, I’d say we changed the conversation in education,” Skandera said. She also said she’s optimistic about the future of education reform, despite disagreements in the field.

In an interview with The 74, Skandera, 43, confirms she will not be working for the federal education department. According to the report, she says, “It’s the right time,” about her resignation, and continues:

It’s the end of the school year. We just turned in an ESSA plan. We have a strong foundation and are ready and poised to lead across the nation. We are up in every objective measure in 2016, so we have a great foundation … I really believe in finishing strong.

Skandera has served at her post in New Mexico for more than six years and, like Jeb Bush, is a proponent of Common Core. She is also head of the governing board of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two federally funded test consortia that developed assessments aligned with the Common Core reform.

“New Mexico’s progress has been good overall, particularly among districts that embrace reform,” Skandera said, according to the Albuquerque Journal. “I’m very encouraged. On all measures, we are seeing the improvements.”

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez applauded Skandera’s reforms:

New Mexico’s students and schools are better off today because of Secretary Skandera’s leadership and dedication… Since day one of my administration, she’s been relentlessly committed to helping us fight the status quo – like teachers unions and other entrenched special interests – to reform education and give our students, teachers, parents, and schools more of what they need to succeed.

Upon DeVos’s nomination by President Donald Trump, KOB4 in Albuquerque reported that Skandera praised Trump’s pick, saying that while she did not know her well, she believed DeVos’s policies would not change Common Core in New Mexico.

Jeb Bush responded to DeVos’s nomination by saying she was an “extraordinary choice” and exclaiming, “I’m so excited!”

Skandera was also a senior policy adviser and deputy chief of staff at the education department under former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who served under President George W. Bush.

“She’s a total pro, and she has done a tremendous job,” said Spellings, now president of the University of North Carolina system, reports The 74. “She’s gotten incredible results out there. She’s a leader and a driver for poor and minority students and all students. … Scores are up, school grades are up, all the arrows are green pointing in the right direction.”

Still, New Mexico’s students are only 27 percent proficient in reading and 19 percent proficient in math, the report continues.

President Donald Trump campaigned on getting rid of the Common Core standards and was highly critical of Jeb Bush’s support for the standards. Trump’s promise to return education to the states and localities won him the votes of a far-reaching network of grassroots citizens across the country who were opposed to Common Core and now the ESSA.

Upon the Politico report that Skandera was not being considered for the top U.S. Education Department post, Emmett McGroarty, a senior fellow at American Principles Project, said:

We applaud the Administration and the Senate for scuttling the nomination of Hanna Skandera due to her past support for Common Core standards and testing. Parents, students, and teachers detest Common Core because it locks children into an inferior education. As President Trump has said, Common Core “is a total disaster.” We urge the Administration to look for appointees committed to achieving the President’s vision that “education has to be at a local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.”

Though U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has funded and served organizations that promote Common Core – including Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education – since her nomination, she has denied she supports the controversial standards.

The secretary, nevertheless, has surrounded herself with advisers and staff who have ties to Bush’s foundation, as well as to Indiana, where Common Core was repealed, but then simply “rebranded.”

In March DeVos also hired Neil Ruddock, who worked for years as a regional advocacy director for Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), from which the former presidential candidate launched a national campaign for Common Core and for the same type of education reforms he instituted in Florida.

Carlos G. Muñiz, a former attorney to Jeb Bush when he was Florida’s governor, has also been appointed as general counsel to DeVos’s department.

Josh Venable, who worked with Bush at his foundation, was appointed by DeVos as her chief of staff.

Other U.S. education department staffers who worked for Bush’s pro-Common Core foundation and for the Indiana education department include Andrew Kossack, an attorney who was appointed as Indiana Department of Revenue commissioner under former Gov. Mike Pence. Prior to that position, he served as general counsel to Indiana’s ousted superintendent of education, Tony Bennett, who championed the adoption of the Common Core standards in the state. Bennett then became the Florida commissioner of education and was later investigated for fraud and resigned after allegations that he intervened in the grading system in Indiana to favor a charter school run by a prominent Republican Party donor.

Bush lost the GOP primary in 2016, largely due to his vocal support for amnesty for illegal immigrants and for the Common Core standards.

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