WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama will nominate Chicago schools executive Arne Duncan as his education secretary at an event in the city today, transition aides said. Obama also is expected to tap Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., to serve as secretary of the interior later this week, all but finalizing his selections for major Cabinet posts.
Obama plans to introduce Duncan this morning at Dodge Renaissance Academy, a Chicago elementary school that the two visited together in 2005.
Duncan, 44, has been chief executive of the Chicago public schools since 2001, steering the nation’s third-largest school district, which has more than 400,000 students. Duncan was raised in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, not far from Obama’s home, and is a longtime friend and basketball partner of the president-elect.
He graduated from Harvard University, where he was co-captain of the basketball team, and he played professional basketball in Australia from 1987 to 1991. He returned to Chicago to direct the Ariel Education Initiative, which creates educational opportunities for inner-city youths on the South Side.
Duncan is embraced by the teachers unions, which have been concerned about high-stakes testing and worry about merit pay being tied to test scores, as well as reformers, who favor charter schools and tougher standards.
The selection of Salazar is expected to be popular among environmental advocates.
Monday afternoon, Obama formally rolled out the members of his climate change and energy team.
Obama, vowing to address global warming and alternative energy sources, named Nobel laureate physicist Steven Chu as his energy secretary, Lisa Jackson as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Nancy Sutley as chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality and Carol Browner as assistant to the president for energy and climate change, a new post.
At a news conference in Chicago, Obama said Chu “values science.”
Obama described his team as uniquely qualified to confront the challenges of climate change. He said past promises to seek renewable energy sources, long unfulfilled, must be met.
“This time has to be different. This time we cannot fail, nor can we be lulled into complacency just because the price at the pump has gone down, for now, from $4 per gallon,” Obama said, acknowledging one of the greatest challenges – falling gas prices – to his hope of giving renewable energy a sense of urgency.
He may also, his aides admit, have difficulty overhauling the nation’s approach to energy in the midst of an economic crisis that has frozen new investments and wiped out funding for research and development.