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U.S. Senate Confirms Betsy DeVos' New Policy Chief

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Jim Blew, the former director of Student Success California, an education advocacy group, has officially been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the office of planning, evaluation, and policy analysis at the U.S. Department of Education. Blew has been serving at the department in an advisory capacity.

Blew's background could be a boon to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' push to expand school choice. He was the national president of StudentsFirst, an education redesign organization started by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. He took that job in late 2014, when Rhee stepped down from the organization, serving until mid-2016, when StudentsFirst merged with 50CAN, a network of state advocacy organizations. Student Success California is an affiliate of 50CAN.

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Before that, Blew spent nearly a decade as the Walton Family Foundation's director of K-12 reform, advising the foundation on how to broaden schooling options for low-income communities. And he worked in communications before devoting himself to K-12 policy.

Blew has worked with DeVos for years to champion school choice. The Walton Family Foundation donated to the Alliance for School Choice, which is affiliated with the American Federation for Children, the school choice advocacy organization that DeVos used to chair. AFC and the Alliance for School Choice put out a warm statement of congratulations when Blew was tapped to lead StudentsFirst back in 2014. 

In past administrations, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis has been a pivotal player. For example, Carmel Martin, who served in the post under former Secretary Arne Duncan, helped oversee signature programs such as Race to the Top, expanded School Improvement Grants, and the Obama administration's waivers from many of the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, praised for Blew and his background. But he's unhappy the confirmation process took so long. 

"James Blew is well-qualified to lead the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development and did not need to be subject to seven months of delays by Senate Democrats," Alexander said in a statement. "For 20 years, he has advocated for improving educational opportunities for families and children by overseeing grants to low-income, high-risk schools. Former DC public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, a Democrat, even called James Blew 'an important partner and advisor to me since my days as Chancellor in D.C.' when Blew replaced her as head of her organization StudentsFirst. I now look forward to working with Mr. Blew in his capacity at the Department of Education, where he will be responsible for helping develop policies, manage the Department's budget, and ensure that programs are working as intended."

Now that Blew has been confirmed, DeVos has her key K-12 team in place. The Senate has already confirmed Mick Zais, the former South Carolina state chief, as deputy secretary; Frank Brogan, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's lieutenant governor as assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education; and Ken Marcus, as the head of the office for civil rights.

Photo: Swikar Patel

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