School & District Management

President Taps Spellings as New Secretary

By Michelle R. Davis & Erik W. Robelen — November 17, 2004 3 min read

President Bush has named Margaret Spellings, his top domestic-policy adviser, as his choice to be the next U.S. secretary of education.

If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Spellings, 46, will continue a history of working with the president that dates back to Mr. Bush’s successful first run for the Texas governorship in 1994. Though she spent the last four years working in the White House on a variety of issues that included health care, immigration, welfare reform, and the environment, Ms. Spellings has long been the president’s most relied-upon adviser on education.

“The issue of education is close to my heart, and on this vital issue there’s no one I trust more than Margaret Spellings,” Mr. Bush said in announcing her nomination on Nov. 17.

Ms. Spellings, who is not expected to face serious oppostion during the confirmation process, would be the eighth secretary of education, following Rod Paige, who announced his resignation on Nov. 15. Mr. Paige, 71, is the former superintendent of the Houston school system and oversaw the implementation of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, one of the president’s top domestic priorities.

Mr. Bush called Ms. Spellings an “energetic reformer” and said she has a “special passion” for the cause of education. Indeed, after being introduced by the president in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, she choked up when talking about her fervor for improving public schools.

“I believe in America’s schools, what they mean to each child, to each future president or domestic-policy adviser, and to the strength of our great country,” she said.

Ms. Spellings played a crucial role in the crafting of the No Child Left Behind Act, which the president signed into law in January 2002, as the behind-the-scenes envoy of Mr. Bush. As a rehearsal for that role, she spent six years as then-Gov. Bush’s top education adviser in Texas. Then Margaret La Montagne, she helped implement a series of reforms to the state’s education system. Those measures foreshadowed Mr. Bush’s national efforts.

“What the president has done is put his education policy quarterback at the helm of the Department of Education, as opposed to the White House,” said Vic Klatt, a lobbyist with Van Scoyoc Associates in Washington and a former top aide to Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “I think she’s going to grab hold of the reins there very quickly and go charging forward to implement the president’s agenda.”

Ms. Spellings was lauded by some of the Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on education for her role in helping craft the No Child Left Behind Act.

“Senator Kennedy feels that Margaret is a capable, principled leader who has the ear of the president,” said Jim Manley, the spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the senior Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “He looks forward to working with her on ways to strengthen and improve public schools.” Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the chairman of the Senate education committee, said, “With Margaret Spellings at the helm, students will have a tireless advocate working to make sure the law is implemented effectively, expanded appropriately, and utilized fully so every student has a better chance to achieve the American dream.”

Before going to work for Mr. Bush in Texas, Ms. Spellings had a variety of jobs there that included government-relations director for the Austin-based Texas Association of School Boards, clerk for the Texas House education committee, and adviser to former Gov. William P. Clements Jr. She grew up in Houston and is a graduate of the University of Houston.

Jay Levin, the director of government relations for the Texas State Teachers Association, worked with Ms. Spellings during her days with the school boards’ association as well as during her tenure with Gov. Bush. He called her a “well-informed and tenacious advocate.”

“Many times we were on the same page, but at times we were on opposite sides,” Mr. Levin said. “She was a very worthy adversary.”

Ms. Spellings is married to Robert D. Spellings, a well-known Austin lawyer who is now based in Washington, and has two daughters and two stepsons.

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