Bush turns to long-time confidante to fill Education secretary position
Associated Press
Nov. 17, 2004


Ben Feller

WASHINGTON - President Bush's choice for Education secretary, Margaret Spellings, is a friend who long ago won his trust, helped him win elections and managed his school agendas.

To the president, she delivers exactly what he expects from schools: results.

As Bush's domestic policy adviser, Spellings has helped shape the news while staying out of it herself. Karl Rove, the president's political strategist, was quoted this fall as saying Spellings is "the most influential woman in Washington that you've never heard of."

Bush has chosen Spellings to replace Rod Paige, an administration official told the Associated Press on Tuesday. An official announcement was likely as early as today.

"She understands what he thinks. They're very, very close," said Sandy Kress, a lawyer who worked at the White House for Spellings when he was Bush's senior education adviser.

Spellings worked for six years as Bush's education adviser in Texas, pushing policies on early reading and student accountability. They became the model for the federal No Child Left Behind law that Spellings helped put together.

She has overseen a range of domestic policies, from justice to housing, but schools are an issue of deep interest. In an online White House public forum, Spellings has said she has been thrilled to take questions about the new law: "I love talking about education."

Spellings, 46, will take over leadership of the Education Department at a critical time. Many lawmakers, teachers and parents are frustrated by No Child Left Behind, which gives more attention to poor and minority kids but penalizes some low-income schools that fall short.

Paige, 71, also had a broken relationship with the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country. He once referred to the NEA as a "terrorist organization."

"This is a great opportunity for the administration to change the tone of its discourse with the education community, particularly the 2.7 million members of the National Education Association who are in schools all over this nation," NEA President Reg Weaver said.

Spellings must face a Senate vote.

Kress has known Spellings since she was a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards in the early 1990s. He called her practical, willing to take a partial victory, then come back and fight again for the rest of the win.

"She's conservative, but she'll listen to teachers, she'll listen to administrators," Kress said. "She wants to change the system, but she wants to talk to people in the system..

The ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, said Tuesday that Spellings is "a capable, principled leader who has the ear of the president and has earned strong, bipartisan respect in Congress."

Spellings was Bush's political director during his successful run for governor in 1994.

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