WASHINGTON – A divided Senate education committee on Feb. 10 advanced the nomination of Washington education administrator Glenna Gallo to lead the U.S. Education Department’s special education program.

“I think she’s fabulous,” said Ilene Schwartz, professor of special education at the University of Washington. “The only bad thing I can say about her is she’s going to leave Washington state.”

Gallo, who has served as the state’s assistant superintendent of special education since 2017, is a former special education teacher and administrator with over 25 years of experience in the field. She previously served for seven years as the state director of special education for the Utah State Board of Education.

Every Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and three Republicans – Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – voted to advance Gallo’s nomination. The committee advanced by voice vote three other labor-related nominations.

The eight Republicans who voted against Gallo did not respond to requests for comment.

“I can’t think of anyone in the country who is more qualified for this job than she is,” Schwartz said, adding: “I really think the only reason people didn’t vote for her was politics, not because of her qualifications.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary Katherine Neas has been serving as acting assistant secretary since July, effectively leading the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

The National Association of State Directors of Special Education, where Gallo served as president twice, called her nomination an “exceptional choice.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona praised Gallo when President Joe Biden first nominated her in November.

“Glenna brings decades of deep expertise in special education and a strong record of supporting students with disabilities to this role,” Cardona said in a statement. “During her work in Washington state as the assistant superintendent of special education, Glenna oversaw millions of dollars for state special education programs and worked to ensure these programs adequately supported and uplifted students with disabilities.”

In Washington, which lags behind most states in serving students with disabilities, Gallo prioritized increasing funding for special education and implementing inclusionary practices.

Under Gallo, a state investigation found that Seattle Public Schools violated federal law when the district did not pay for nursing care for 11 disabled students. State officials ordered the district to provide medical care for students and make up for delays students faced getting in-person instruction originally promised due to their disabilities.

It’s unclear when the full Senate will vote on the nomination. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office did not return requests for comment Thursday.

Published in conjunction with Spokane Spokesman-Review