Education Secretary Rod Paige intends to leave job, official says

Friday, November 12th 2004, 3:20 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Education Secretary Rod Paige intends to leave his Cabinet position, a Bush administration official told The Associated Press Friday.

``The secretary has been looking at leaving, and he's been in discussion with the White House about the right time to do so,'' said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A Texan like Bush, Paige, 71, rose to prominence as an award-winning superintendent in Houston before becoming the nation's first black education secretary. He has been an outspoken defender of No Child Left Behind, the education law at the center of Bush's domestic agenda.

Paige would be the third member of the Bush Cabinet to make plans to leave since the president won a second term. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans also are departing.

Paige has not formally handed in his resignation, according to the official, who has talked to Paige about his plans.

The administration official said Paige is content to move on after overseeing Bush's education agenda for four years. The official declined to be identified because Paige has yet to resign.

A leading candidate to replace Paige is Margaret Spellings, Bush's domestic policy adviser who helped shape his school agenda when he was the Texas governor. Spellings has a keen interest in schools and may want the Cabinet-level education job.

Paige has presided over the biggest federal shakeup to education in a generation, a law demanding that schools show improvement among all students, regardless of race or wealth. Paige, who grew up in segregated Mississippi, puts No Child Left Behind in the category of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ended separating schools by race.

Yet Paige has had rocky moments, with none more glaring that when he called the National Education Association a ``terrorist organization'' in a private meeting with governors.

He apologized but maintained that the NEA, the nation's largest teachers union, uses ``obstructionist scare tactics'' in opposing the law. The union called for his resignation.

Many education followers have suggested Bush would seek a change at the top, and that Paige would be content to go after capping his public service career in Washington. But in recent days, some close to Paige have said he's seemed eager to carry on the oversight of the law.

``I talked to him before he gave his speech at the Republican convention, and he seemed to be enjoying his job immensely,'' Williamson Evers, a Hoover Institution research fellow, said recently. Evers is an informal adviser to the White House and the Education Department.