Bush Nominates a Close Adviser for Top Education Post
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 - President Bush on Wednesday named Margaret Spellings, a White House insider who currently serves as chief adviser on domestic issues, to take over as secretary of education for his second term.
Announcing her nomination at the White House, Mr. Bush said that over the next four years, he and Ms. Spellings were "determined to extend the high standards and accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act to all of America's public high schools.''
"Margaret Spellings has a special passion for this cause," Mr. Bush said. "She believes that every child can learn, and that every school can succeed. And she knows the stakes are too high to tolerate failure." He added that Ms. Spellings "believes in high standards and improving the resources necessary - and providing the resources necessary - to meet those standards.''
Ms. Spellings, 46, who had advised Mr. Bush on educational issues when he was governor of Texas, will take over from Rod Paige, the former superintendent of schools in Houston who was the first African-American secretary of education.
In the White House, Ms. Spellings's office was down the corridor from that of Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist, who first introduced her to Mr. Bush when he was running for governor of Texas in 1994. At the White House ceremony announcing her nomination, Mr. Rove, who said he was once "brutally" turned down after asking Ms. Spellings for a date in the 1980's, called her "an incredible, special person," adding, "She has a passion for education."
Ms. Spellings is seen as closely attuned to the administration's thinking and political sensibilities. Last year, for example, as resistance to No Child Left Behind spread among Republican legislators in several states, she dispatched an adviser from her office to the Education Department and to state capitals in an effort to quell the rebellion and smooth relations between the states and Washington.
The legislators had been resisting the law as an intrusion into states' rights, complaining that it conflicted with school accountability systems the states had devised over the previous decade and would cost too much to carry out successfully. Ms. Spellings's lieutenants and Education Department officials persuaded them to back down, while the administration relaxed some rules and adopted a more conciliatory tone.
Many Democrats had complained that the education measure was underfinanced, but Republicans maintained that money for the nation's poorest schools increased by 50 percent under Mr. Bush.In a statement, Reg Weaver, president of 2.7-million member teacher's union, the National Education Association, called Ms. Spellings's nomination "a great opportunity for the administration to change the tone of its discourse with the education community."
Earlier this year, Dr. Paige caused a furor when he called the union "a terrorist organization.'' He later apologized to teachers, but not to their union.
Today, the president appeared to offer an olive branch to public school teachers, saying that, "in all our reforms, we will continue to stand behind our nation's teachers, who work so hard for our children."
There was, notably, no mention on Wednesday of educational issues of importance to conservatives, like vouchers, with the president and his nominee's remarks directed at the drive toward standards and accountability.
Ms. Spellings is expected to focus largely on refining and consolidating the demands for school accountability under No Child Left Behind, which will face Congressional hearings next year, well before its scheduled reauthorization in 2007. In recent days, some conservatives have questioned her appointment, saying they would have preferred somebody like Eugene Hickok, the deputy secretary of education, who is more closely associated with conservative causes like school vouchers.
In accepting Mr. Bush's nomination, Ms. Spellings seemed moved by the president's praise, and she struggled to contain her emotion.
"I share your passion for education and your commitment to seeing that each and every child has the skills and qualities necessary to realize the American dream," Ms. Spellings said. "I pledge to do all I can to ensure that no child is left behind."
Education advocates, lawmakers and others predicted that Ms. Spellings's long and close tenure at Mr. Bush's side would raise the profile of education in a second Bush term.
"This is a city where influence depends on how close you are to the president, and nobody is much closer to the president than Margaret," said Lamar Alexander, the Republican senator from Tennessee who served as education secretary for 18 months under President Bush's father. He added that Ms. Spellings "knows the territory."
"The question will not be whether to have No Child Left Behind in the future, but how to have it and even to expand it," Mr. Alexander said. During his presidential campaign and since his victory, Mr. Bush advocated expanding the education law's annual testing requirements, which currently apply only to grades three to eight, to high school as well.
Though Ms. Spellings has never run a school system, she has a long history working on education issues, serving as associate executive director for governmental and external relations of the Texas Association of School Boards before going to work for Mr. Bush in Austin. As then-Governor Bush's adviser on education issues, she oversaw a state reading initiative, a plan to reduce automatic promotion, and the passage of the state's charter school law.
"She has a great deal of relevant experience," said Joseph P. Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College.
Ms. Spellings is a graduate of the University of Houston. She has two daughters from a previous marriage and two stepsons with her current husband, Robert Spellings of Austin, Tex..
Diana Jean Schemo
New York Times
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