Bush Taps Domestic Advisor Spellings as Education Secretary

Times Staff Writer

President Bush will nominate Margaret Spellings, his chief domestic policy advisor, as secretary of Education today -- making her the third top White House staff member selected to lead a key agency in his second term -- senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Spellings, who would succeed Rod Paige, has advised Bush on education matters since he was governor of Texas. In Washington, she worked closely with Democrats on the No Child Left Behind Act, Bush’s signature domestic policy achievement in his first term.

So far, Bush has chosen his closest White House aides as replacements for departing Cabinet members. Within the last week he has nominated White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general to succeed John Ashcroft; and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice as secretary of State, to replace Colin L. Powell.


Spellings’ impending appointment was hailed by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who worked closely with her and the White House in crafting No Child Left Behind.

“Margaret Spellings is a capable, principled leader who has the ear of the president and has earned strong bipartisan respect in Congress. I look forward to working with her to strengthen our public schools,” Kennedy said.

If confirmed by the Senate, Spellings, 46, would be positioned to help Bush extend the No Child Left Behind reforms to high schools. That law requires schools to test students in third though eighth grades annually in math and English, and to show continued improvement until 100% of their students are proficient in the subjects.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Assn., a 2.7- million-member teachers union, said Spellings’ nomination was “a great opportunity for the administration to change the tone of its discourse with the education community.”

The NEA, which traditionally supports Democrats, was the target of a sharp comment by Paige in February, when he described it during a private meeting with the nation’s governors as a “terrorist organization.”

At the White House, Spellings’ portfolio encompassed a wide array of issues, many on the top tier of Bush’s second-term agenda -- changing the funding mechanism for Social Security, imposing limits on medical malpractice litigation and expanding the flow of taxpayer funds to religious organizations that provide social services.

Widely known as a policy maven, Spellings also possesses keen political acumen. When Bush ran for governor in 1994, she was his political director. Shortly after Bush won, Spellings, then known as Margaret LaMontagne, became his education advisor and helped him pass legislation that emphasized accountability and achievement, local control and early-childhood reading skills -- all of which became part of the national law.

A 1979 graduate of the University of Houston, Spelling was associate executive director of the Texas Assn. of School Boards before joining Bush’s gubernatorial campaign.

She would be the second woman to head the Education Department, which was created in 1979.