Federal

Bush Picks Texas Lawyer for New Ed. Dept. Post

By Erik W. Robelen & Michelle R. Davis — May 23, 2005 4 min read

President Bush intends to nominate for a senior Department of Education position a generous Texas Republican donor who has a long history of involvement in education and strong ties to the president.

On May 20, the White House announced the president’s plans to name Thomas W. Luce III, who founded the group Just for the Kids, as the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development. That job was created this year as part of a reorganization by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Among the job’s responsibilities will be oversight of the department’s annual budget proposal. The appointment of Mr. Luce will require Senate confirmation.

Meanwhile, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on May 18 unanimously backed the promotion of Raymond J. Simon to become the new deputy secretary, the department’s No. 2 position. Mr. Simon, a former educator and state schools chief in Arkansas, has been serving since December 2003 as the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. He has been acting deputy secretary since April.

Mississippi state schools Superintendent Henry L. Johnson is widely expected to be named to fill Mr. Simon’s post as the K-12 assistant secretary. (“Simon Nominated to Be Deputy Secretary,” April 27, 2005.)

‘Intelligent, Insightful’

Mr. Luce, 64, has long been involved in education issues in Texas, and more recently across the country. He is a co-author of a book published this year called Do What Works: How Proven Practices Can Improve America’s Public Schools. His work has drawn praise from leaders in education, including top teachers’ union officials in Texas.

Mr. Luce, a lawyer, has also been a good friend to GOP candidates over the years.

In 2004, he gave the maximum personal contribution to President Bush’s re-election campaign, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based watchdog group that monitors campaign contributions. He was also part of the Educators for Bush Steering Committee in last year’s campaign. And he has donated to a variety of GOP candidates for Congress and to the Freedom Project, a Washington-based political action committee that backs House Republican campaigns.

The head of that PAC is Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“It’s not uncommon to see a big donor given a post in an administration,” said Larry Noble, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. The key question, he added, is whether the assignment was given based on political favoritism or on qualifications.

In the eyes of John Cole, the president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, Mr. Luce will be up to the task.

“That would show uncommonly good judgment on the part of the president,” Mr. Cole said when asked about the announcement two days before it was made official. “Tom’s one of the most intelligent, insightful, and thoughtful people in Texas, and his commitment to education runs very deep, especially public education.”

Mr. Luce played a lead role in 1984 in helping to craft and marshal support for major changes to Texas’ education system.

In 1990, he unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for Texas governor. He broke ranks with Republicans by working for the 1992 presidential campaign of businessman Ross Perot, who had spearheaded the Texas education changes.

He also has long-established relationships with key people in the Bush administration, including the president himself.

“I’ve known Tom for a long time,” President Bush said during a Florida school visit in September 2003. “Tom has been an agitator for change in our state of Texas ever since I’ve known him.”

But one former Bush administration Education Department official, who asked not to be named, suggested that the Texas ties have given Mr. Luce an unfair advantage in securing federal aid for work he’s recently been involved in.

In 1995, Mr. Luce founded the Austin-based nonprofit group Just for the Kids with the aim of using state accountability data to examine and improve student performance. In 2001, following up and essentially subsuming that project, he helped found and was board chairman of the National Center for Educational Accountability, which has received federal funds for its work promoting the use of student and school data to improve schools.

Defending Federal Support

The NCEA, based in Austin, is a collaborative effort with the University of Texas at Austin and the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. Since its inception, the NCEA has received some $2.2 million in federal grant money for national projects, according to Michael E. Hudson, the president of the NCEA.

That level of support has raised questions, said the former education department official. “It was clear to many people in the department that if [the NCEA] was based in Madison, Wisconsin, they would never have gotten a dime,” said the official.

But in a phone interview last week, before the intended nomination had been formally announced, Mr. Luce sharply rejected the charge.

“It is ridiculous [to suggest] that we got favoritism,” he said, arguing that the group has a reputation for quality work. He also noted that the NCEA’s board of directors is bipartisan and includes former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. and former Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, both prominent Democrats. And he stressed the nonpartisanship of the University of Texas and the ECS.

Mr. Luce stepped down this month as the chairman of the NCEA.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal As New COVID Concerns Emerge, Biden Administration Keeps Focus on School Reopenings
Amid new COVID-19 concerns, the Biden administration kept its focus on in-person learning, stressing the need for safety precautions.
2 min read
Image of a student holding a mask and a backpack near the entrance of a classroom.
E+
Federal Biden Calls on Schools to Host COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics for Kids 12 and Up
The president is focusing on vaccinating children ages 12 and older as concerns grow about the Delta variant and its impact on schools.
2 min read
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus on June 2.
Evan Vucci/AP
Federal How Political Backlash to Critical Race Theory Reached School Reopening Guidance
A lawmaker wants Miguel Cardona to repudiate the Abolitionist Teaching Network after federal COVID-19 documents referenced the group's work.
6 min read
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is seen at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2021 in Washington.<br/>
Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA via AP
Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty