Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for January 8, 2005

Unanimous support for Margaret Spellings...

Education committee approves Spellings

Easy Cabinet confirmation expected for longtime Bush adviser

The Associated Press
Friday, January 7, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Margaret Spellings said Thursday that as the nation's schools chief she would address "horror stories" about the most demanding education law in a generation, which she helped write.

Spellings, President Bush's nominee for education secretary, received praise and friendly questions for the most part at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Education Committee. The committee unanimously recommended Senate confirmation, which is expected soon.

But she was pushed to explain how she would enforce No Child Left Behind, the law she helped engineer as Bush's domestic policy chief and one that has exasperated many educators.

The law requires yearly gains among all students, regardless of race, income or English ability. Schools that receive poverty aid face penalties if they fall short.

It is seen as an aggressive response to a national problem, as less than a third of fourth-graders and eighth-graders can read and perform math up to federal standards. Many education leaders, however, say they struggle with the law, from getting top qualified teachers in every class to finding room for students who are promised transfers.

Reaching out to teachers and parents, Spellings said: "We must stay true to the sound principles of leaving no child behind. But we in the administration must engage with those closest to children to embed these principles in a sensible and workable way."

After senators took turns explaining their states' problems with the law, Spellings acknowledged, "Obviously, this is a theme here."

"None of us wants to tip the boat over, if you will, with these horror stories," Spellings said. "We in the administration are committed to make this law workable."

Spellings, 47, entered her hearing on strong footing, having won praise from both parties as a respected policy-maker and fair negotiator with Congress. Spellings was Bush's education adviser when he was Texas governor and then joined him in the White House.

"I don't think anyone has a better understanding of the president's position [on education]," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. "You will now be in a perfect position to promote his agenda."

Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat, said: "I hope it's not the kiss of death for the right wing, but I've welcomed the opportunity to work with Margaret Spellings ... I think she's an inspired choice to be secretary of education."

Spellings outlined Bush's agenda for his second-term: requiring additional state testing in the high school grades, beefing up the academic rigor of vocational programs, and reshaping college aid to help nontraditional students. The testing idea may well run into opposition, and any spending proposals face a fight because of a federal budget crunch.

Spellings signaled that she may seek to do more to hold colleges accountable, an idea floating in Congress. Spellings said the department should be able to tell parents: "What is the best value for me and my kid? I'm literally going through this with one of my own children."

Spellings has two children in school. Her daughter Mary, 17, attends a Catholic high school, and her daughter Grace, 12, goes to a public middle school.

On money -- a sore spot among congressional Democrats, teachers unions and others -- Spellings defended Bush's spending record and would not comment on his upcoming budget.

Federal spending on programs covered under No Child Left Behind has increased 40 percent since Bush took office, from $17.38 billion to $24.35 billion. But spending went up only 1.7 percent this year, about the same rate of increase the entire department received.