President Bush yesterday named White House domestic-policy adviser Margaret La Montagne Spellings, 46, as the nation’s eighth secretary of education, saying continued improvement of public schools remains among his top priorities.
“The issue of education is close to my heart, and on this vital issue, there is no one I trust more than Margaret Spellings,” Mr. Bush said in his announcement in the Roosevelt Room.
The president called his decade-long adviser an “energetic reformer” who “has a special passion for this cause” of school reform.
“She believes that every child can learn and that every school can succeed, and she knows the stakes are too high to tolerate failure,” Mr. Bush said. “We must ensure that a high-school diploma is a sign of real achievement, so that our young people have the tools to go to college and to fill the jobs of the 21st century.”
Mrs. Spellings choked up momentarily as she expressed her commitment to education.
“I am a product of our public schools. I believe in America’s schools, what they mean to each child, to each future president or future domestic-policy adviser and to the strength of our great country,” she said, as Mr. Bush placed his hand on her waist for reassurance.
The close bond between the president and Mrs. Spellings was apparent throughout the six-minute ceremony, in which they kissed twice and exchanged warm glances.
Noting the presence of her husband, Robert, and two daughters, Mary and Grace, Mr. Bush said, “Laura and I are proud to count her and Robert as good friends.”
Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill lauded the nomination.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and former education secretary for Mr. Bush’s father, remarked on the importance of Mrs. Spellings’ 10-year association with the president, first as political director of his 1994 gubernatorial campaign in Texas and as his senior policy adviser ever since.
“In Washington, D.C., influence often depends on how close you are to the president,” Mr. Alexander said. “That means Margaret will give the Department of Education unprecedented influence … . She knows the territory, she knows the president, and she ought to do a fine job.”
Mrs. Spellings’ strong ties with Democrats in Congress was forged largely by her partnership with former deputy White House policy adviser Sandy Kress, a Democratic lawyer from Austin, Texas, who shepherded bipartisan passage of the administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the leading Senate Democrat on education issues, called her “a capable, principled leader who has the ear of the president and has earned strong bipartisan respect in Congress.”
Signaling an anticipated easy Senate confirmation, Mr. Kennedy said: “I look forward to working with her to strengthen our public schools, preschools and support for college students.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said, “I hope to see her confirmed swiftly. As domestic-policy adviser to the president, she was a key engineer of the No Child Left Behind Act … . She will make sure that the legacy of [the law] is strengthened.”
Both Mr. Bush and Mrs. Spellings praised departing Education Secretary Rod Paige, who resigned Friday as part of the president’s Cabinet makeover for his second term.
“As secretary of education, this humble and decent man inspired his department and implemented the most significant federal education reform in a generation,” the president said of Mr. Paige, who previously was superintendent of the Houston Independent School District.