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Secretary of Education Nominee Supports Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

Margaret Spellings, who is currently serving as an assistant to President Bush for domestic policy, was nominated to take over the cabinet position of Secretary of Education after Rod Paige announced he would be stepping down. Spellings, a supporter of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, has been a key advisor in developing Bush’s domestic and education policy. Together they have consistently pushed through increases in funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

A close advisor to the president since his first gubernatorial race in 1994, Spellings helped develop the No Child Left Behind Act and has been a strong supporter of the law despite criticism that it has been notoriously under-funded. She has worked as a lobbyist for organizations such as the Texas Association of School Boards, but has never held an elected office and has no experience running a school system.1 Despite her close relationship with the president, she has remained relatively under the radar of the press and has been called "the most influential person in Washington you’ve never heard of" by Karl Rove, the president’s chief political strategist.2

Since her nomination, Spellings and her support of issues like abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been cast into the political spotlight. She recently explained, "These programs have to focus on abstinence and the need for kids to avoid sexual activity. I think for too long we’ve sent mixed signals to kids. We’re trying to reframe our expectations that say we don’t expect you to engage in sexual activity; we expect you to remain abstinent through high school."3

Nonetheless, even some conservatives are dissatisfied with Spellings as the choice for the position. Soon after arriving in Washington, Spellings, who was divorced at the time, responded to census data showing a decline in the traditional family on C-SPAN. She explained that there "were lots of different types of family" and that she herself was a "single mom."4 (She has since married Robert Spellings, an attorney and close friend of Karl Rove.)

During a press conference after her nomination was announced, press secretary Scott McClellan was asked to defend Spellings record on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. McClellan responded saying that she is a "strong advocate of the president’s agenda" and that "The President is an advocate of abstinence education programs because he wants to focus on what works."5 The Bush Administration proposed doubling the federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2005 from $138 million to $272 million. The final budget for these programs in the new fiscal year is $167.5 million.

"Mr. McClellan’s contention that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been proven effective is patently false," said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. "No sound study exists that shows that these programs have any long-term beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior. The fact that the President’s nominee for the Nation’s lead educator supports these programs is particularly disturbing," Smith continued.

More information on Margaret Spelling.

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  1. Diana Jean Shemo, "Bush Nominates a Close Advisor for Top Education Post" The New York Times, 18 November 2004, accessed 20 November 2004,
  2. David Stout, "Bush Turns to Close Adviser to Run Education Department" The New York Times, 17 November 2004, accessed 20 November 2004,
  3. "Teaching Abstinence Only", 4 March 2004, accessed 20 November 2004,
  4. Dave Montgomery, "Bush Picks Advisors for 2 Posts" The Seattle Times, 18 November 2004, accessed 20 November 2004,
  5. Scott McClellan, "White House Press Briefing" Office of the Press Secretary, 17 November 2004, accessed 20 November 2004,