Nation's first U.S. education secretary dies

Nation's first U.S. education secretary dies

Shirley Hufstedler, 90, was appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1980 to lead the newly created department.

Shirley Hufstedler, who served as the first U.S. secretary of education, has died.

Bloomberg.com reports that Hustedler, 90, was President Jimmy Carter's choice to lead the federal education department in 1980, when it became a cabinet-level agency. She held the job until Ronald Reagan became president in January 1981.

In a statement to Realcleareducation.com, Carter said Hufstedler was "an invaluable member of my cabinet."

"As the country’s first secretary of education, she blazed a trail for those who followed," the former president said. "Even after she left her post, she continued to champion quality public education, speaking out against school funding cuts and advocating for high academic standards."

After her stint as education secretary, Hufstedler returned to practicing law and taught at the University of California at Irvine, Stanford University and other schools. Her firm, Hufstedler & Kaus, subsequently became part of Morrison & Foerster. She was senior of counsel at the law firm’s Los Angeles office at the time of her death.

U.S. Education Secretary John King saluted Hofstedler as a "champion for equity."

"She was a trailblazer and a champion for equity, defining the department's role as a protector of civil rights," King says. "She will remain on our minds and in our hearts as we continue the work to ensure that all students are prepared for success in school, work, and life. As we remember and celebrate Secretary Hufstedler's legacy, let us recommit to expanding equity in education for all students."

The creation of the U.S. Department of Education, approved by Congress in 1979, brought together more than 150 programs that had been under five other departments.

Carter has said that establishing an independent education department “had been a goal of mine since I served as chairman of our county’s board of education in the 1950s.”

In a 2005 interview, Carter, who did not have an opportunity to appoint a U.S. Supreme Court justice in his four-year presidential term said Hufstedler “probably” would have been his first choice for an appointment to the court.

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