Top Education Department officials, including former Secretary Rod Paige, allowed specialists to improperly encourage state and local officials to spend billions of dollars in federal grant money with a small group of companies, government investigators have concluded.
In educating state and local officials about the department's Reading First grant program, officials loaded expert panels with speakers who overwhelmingly preferred products from a handful of educational companies, according to a report released yesterday by the Education Department's inspector general.
"It sounded like a sales job," one attendee complained in comments to the department which were reviewed by IG officials. "Why are certain approaches disregarded[?]" asked another. "We did not get the whole picture," wrote a third.
"Arrogant! You must think us stupid and uncaring," wrote another. "What else would explain how you talk down to us, preach to us, treat us like morons. I don't experience this level of a 'sell' job when I buy a car." The sessions, known as "the [Education] Secretary's Readership Language Academies," were largely controlled by senior Education Department officials, the investigators found.
The department is barred from interfering with curriculum decisions by state and local education officials.
What's more, the department appointed certain advisors to help state and local officials make spending decisions with their grant money, despite the fact that they had financial ties to the companies whose products were under consideration by those officials, the report found.
Education Department officials failed to "adequately assess issues of bias and lack of objectivity," the report concluded.
In a written response to the report, Deputy Education Secretary Ray Simon said the department agreed that "there were areas for improvement," but was concerned that the report "did not recognize the positive aspects" of the educational panels and materials reviewed.
Reading First is a multi-billion-dollar grant program that was supposed to boost reading efforts for underachieving young students. It has been plagued with accusations of bias, improper political influence and fraud. The Education Department's inspector general has mounted six separate investigations into the matter, and lawmakers have called for hearings to look into the program.