Rees Leaves Innovation Office for Job in the Private Sector

By Michelle R. Davis — January 17, 2006 2 min read

The head of the Department of Education’s office of innovation and improvement left last week for a job in the private sector.

Nina Shokraii Rees, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and a former education analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said she would go to work for Knowledge Universe Inc., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based education investment company, as its vice president of strategic initiatives, starting Jan. 30.

Ms. Rees will be working in the Washington office of the company, which was formed in 1996 by the former junk-bond financier Michael R. Milken and others.

Ms. Rees was the first person to direct the office of innovation and improvement, which was created in September 2002 by then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige. It was formed to promote President Bush’s agenda for school choice, including private school vouchers.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings praised Ms. Rees’ service, saying in a Jan. 12 statement that she had moved “the ball forward toward the goal of a quality education for all Americans.”

As the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, Ms. Rees “was a catalyst for grassroots change and accountability-based reform,” Ms. Spellings said in the statement.

Ms. Rees was involved in the expansion of charter schools, through grants and outreach across the country, and was an advocate for the first federal voucher program, established by Congress for the District of Columbia in 2003. Her office was also instrumental in channeling $20 million in federal charter school money to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The office of innovation and improvement also oversees the implementation of the supplemental-services portion of the No Child Left Behind Act. The law calls for students at some schools that do not meet annual educational goals to receive after-school tutoring services.

A New Viewpoint

Ms. Rees said in an interview last week that she was looking forward to getting a new perspective on supplemental services. Knowledge Universe owns or has investments in a long list of education companies, including K-12 Inc., KinderCare Learning Centers, and EdSolutions Inc., a supplemental-services provider.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the business side of [supplemental education services] works, and the challenges they face,” Ms. Rees said. “In my capacity, I only hear what they want me to hear. I’ve always been interested in the entrepreneurial end of the puzzle.”

She said she would also work on early-childhood-education issues for Knowledge Universe to ensure that state efforts to develop universal prekindergarten programs include private providers.

“This [new job] dovetails well with everything I’ve done so far to expand choice in K-12,” she said.

Under federal law, Ms Rees cannot lobby the Education Department for a one-year period.

Andrew J. Rotherham, a co-director of Education Sector, a Washington-based national education think tank, and a former White House aide in the Clinton administration, said that Ms. Rees’ departure suggests Ms. Spellings may be showing the door to those chosen by Mr. Paige.

“It means that Spellings is putting her imprint on the department,” he wrote in an e-mail Jan. 12.


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