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Who's in Charge Right Now? 5 Facts to Know About Acting Education Secretary Philip Rosenfelt

Next Tuesday, a Senate vote is expected to determine whether Betsy DeVos will be confirmed as secretary of education for the Trump administration's Department of Education.

During the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee meeting yesterday, DeVos narrowly made it through with a 12-11 vote; no Democrats voted in her favor and several Republicans indicated they might not vote in her favor on the Senate floor.

This vote itself was delayed a week due to a delay in the release of the report from the Office of Government Ethics concerning DeVos' financial disclosures, leaving nearly a month since former education secretary John B. King, Jr. had his last day serving the Department.

That poses the question: Who's in charge right now?

Especially, given the fact, that yesterday, the Department announced through the Federal Register last week that it will be delaying the following regulations until March 21:

  • the Every Student Succeeds Act's Accountability and State Plans
  • the Open Licensing Requirement for Competitive Grant Programs
  • the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

With King gone and DeVos still unconfirmed, who's calling the shots to put these regulations under review?

Meet Philip H. Rosenfelt, the Deputy General Counsel for Program Service in the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Education since July of 2006 and in an acting capacity since 2005.

The position's responsibilities include "oversee[ing] legal services to the Department relating to the development and implementation of Federal programs that assist elementary and secondary, vocational and adult education, special education, rehabilitative services, the Institute of Education Sciences, educational equity, and ethics provisions, as well as [providing] advice to the Office of the Secretary of Education on civil rights issues."

Right now, he's Acting Education Secretary.

Here are 5 facts to know about Rosenfelt, who will be acting secretary of education until DeVos is confirmed or another nominee approved.

1. In 2013, he was a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal

In 2013, Rosenfelt was an honoree for what is fondly nicknamed "The Sammies," or the Oscars of government service. Rosenfelt was honored for using his legal expertise to better education in the U.S. through his position at the Department of Education.

"As a federal legal adviser and litigator for more than four decades, [Rosenfelt] improved education and helped ensure equal access to education for all students," according to Rosenfelt's honoree page.

2. One of His Very First Department Assignments Was a Desegregation Case

Rosenfelt hit the ground running when beginning his time with the Department; according to The Washington Post, one of Rosenfelt's first tasks was to take a team to a school in Alabama and "quickly desegregate" it.

3. As Congress Failed to Pass the No Child Left Behind Reauthorization, He Helped Draft the Waivers for States to Get By

Rosenfelt used his expertise to help states get by after lawmakers repeatedly failed to overturn No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

"He helped devise legal strategies for offering No Child Left Behind waivers to many schools and helped craft a plan for quickly disbursing almost $100 billion in stimulus money for education programs," the Post said.

In other words, Rosenfelt helped update requirements so states could still be held accountable for providing quality education to students without being held to the outdated requirements of NCLB. "It was a very open and collaborative kind of discussion where we were also looking at information we had on how well the programs were working—which provisions seemed to be working and which did not," said Rosenfelt on his work at the time.

4. He Was Part of a Guidance for Schools to Stop Barring Children Entry Based on Immigration Status

Perhaps especially relevant given President Trump's actions in his first few days in office, in 2014 Rosenfelt was part of a guidance released to schools to ensure that all students have access to education regardless of immigration status.

NBC News said the Department had been working on the guidance for three years prior to its release, which Rosenfelt said was timed "with schools' preparation for next school year's enrollment."

5. In His Position, He Oversees a Team of Over 100 Attorneys

To give an example of how important Rosenfelt's job is at the Department, he oversees a team of over 100 attorneys and has used his leadership skills to benefit U.S. education in myriad ways.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

2/1/2017

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