The former top education official in South Carolina has taken a position in the federal government.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday narrowly confirmed former state Education Superintendent Mitchell “Mick” Zais to be the next deputy secretary of education. The 50-48 vote came seven months after he was first nominated for the post by President Donald Trump.
“We are thrilled to finally have Mick on our team,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. “In his nearly four decades of public service, Dr. Zais has fought for our country abroad and for students at home. He brings a remarkable breadth of experience to the department and will strengthen the work we do every day to improve education for students across the country.”
Zais spent four years in the South Carolina job but did not seek reelection in 2014.
While graduation rates and high school SAT scores improved slightly during his tenure, Zais also alienated many education groups and the legislatively-chosen Board of Education with his efforts to improve accountability in ways those groups believed heavy-handed. He pushed to make student performance a larger percentage of teacher evaluations and unsuccessfully pushed to assign letter grades for school districts based on academic progress.
But school advocates were also frustrated by his decisions to reduce the agency’s budget, even turning down federal funds when he believed it came with too many “strings” attached. He also opposed Common Core guidelines in South Carolina.
Prior to his time as superintendent, Zais served as president of Newberry College and was a member of the state Commission on Higher Education. The West Point graduate served 31 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a brigadier general.
Zais had the support of both South Carolina’s GOP senators. ” I have confidence that his addition to the department is a win for education,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott tweeted after the vote.