VP Pick’s Wife Is Virginia’s Education Secretary; What’s That, You Ask?

By Daarel Burnette II — July 26, 2016 2 min read
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The education policy record of Sen. Tim Kaine, who was just picked as the running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, will get plenty of attention this week.

Less, but still a signficant amount, of attention will be paid toward his wife, Anne Holton, who currently serves as Virginia Secretary of Education.

That’s not the same as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, a position held by Steven R. Staples. The state superintendent oversees the department of education and reports to the state’s board of education. Both the board and superintendent are appointed by the governor.

Virginia’s Secretary of Education, on the other hand, is a role established in 1976 to advise the governor on both pre-K, K-12 and higher education policy. The role is advisory in nature only, and the secretary doesn’t have any authority over the education department. The secretary is appointed by and reports to the governor.

Holton, a former legal aid lawyer, was appointed to serve as the state’s education secretary in 2014. She is the daughter of former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton , a Republican, and her picture was famously captured in 1970 when she became one of the few white students to attend an all-black Richmond high school. Holton and Kaine sent their children to Richmond City Public Schools.

Update: Holton submitted her resignation Tuesday. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed Dietra Trent, the state’s deputy secretary.

Since being appointed, she has advocated for the rights of foster children, the reduction of standardized testing, and closing the state’s wide achievement gap between white students and students of color, according to the Washington Post. She’s also pushed back against the expansion of charter schools and advocated for the state legislature to increase teacher pay.

Renee Lang, the spokeswoman for the National Association of State Board of Education, did a little bit of research for me and found that 12 states have governor’s cabinet members with the title “secretary of education,” in addition to the state’s superintendent. They are:

  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky (Secretary of the Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development)
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Mexico (Secretary of the Public Education Department)
  • Oklahoma (Secretary of Education and Workforce Development)
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Virginia
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia (Secretary of Education and the Arts)

Twelve additional states have education representatives with titles other than “secretary of education” on their governors’ cabinets. Not all of these cabinet members represent general K-12 education; some have titles specific to higher education or early learning. Those 12 states are:

  • Alaska (Representing education and early development)
  • Colorado (Representing higher education)
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana (Cabinet member is the Executive Director of the Idaho State Board of Education)
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey (Two cabinet members representing education and higher education)
  • Ohio (Representing higher education)
  • Tennessee
  • Washington (Representing early learning)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.