- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

President Bush’s choice for education secretary, Margaret Spellings, cleared the first hurdle of Senate confirmation yesterday with a unanimous favorable committee vote, sending the nomination to the floor for a final vote.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee took its vote after a two-hour confirmation hearing, making Mrs. Spellings’ nomination the first of Mr. Bush’s new Cabinet choices to go before the full Senate.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican and new committee chairman, described Mrs. Spellings as “enthusiastic and knowledgeable” in her testimony.

“I look forward to Secretary-designee Spellings’ being confirmed by the full Senate in the coming weeks,” Mr. Enzi said.

Mrs. Spellings told senators that the administration would work with Congress to reinvigorate the nation’s high schools, bolster preschool programs for toddlers and push for greater public access to higher education.

Republicans and Democrats heaped praise on Mrs. Spellings, 47, who has been a close adviser to Mr. Bush during his time as Texas governor and president.

“I don’t think anyone has a better understanding of the president’s position [on education issues],” Mr. Enzi said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the panel’s ranking Democrat, praised Mrs. Spellings for her “impressive record on domestic policy, especially in education. She’s a champion for public education, and I look forward very much to working with her as secretary.”

Mrs. Spellings testified that Mr. Bush’s second term would move beyond the strategic national goals, accountability measures and increased federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act to tackle important problems at the high school level.

“With only 67 of every 100 ninth-graders graduating from high school on time and with the United States lagging in math … we must turn our attention to high schools and to math and science,” Mrs. Spellings said.

Mr. Bush’s new budget, to be issued next month, will call for reading and math assessments required under No Child Left Behind to be extended to ninth and 11th grades, Mrs. Spellings said. The law currently requires testing in grades three through eight.

Some House and Senate Republicans say the White House will have a strong fight within the party to expand No Child Left Behind, with some conservative leaders pushing to roll back the law’s accountability requirements.

Also, the budget will call for a federal “high school intervention initiative which focuses on reading skills and the critical ninth-grade year,” she told senators.

As federal dollars finance almost one-third of all higher education costs, another goal is to require colleges and universities to provide clearer financial information and options to students and their parents, Mrs. Spellings said.

“Parents are confused about it. … We must address the issues of affordability and accessibility by increasing resources for Pell grants and revamping the student aid system to better meet the needs of today’s college students,” she said.

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