Key Initiative Of ‘No Child’ Under Federal Investigation: Officials Profited From Reading First Program
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2007; A01
The Justice Department is conducting a probe of a $6 billion reading initiative at the center of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, another blow to a program besieged by allegations of financial conflicts of interest and cronyism, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.
The disclosure came as a congressional hearing revealed how people implementing the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program made at least $1 million off textbooks and tests toward which the federal government steered states.
“That sounds like a criminal enterprise to me,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, which held a five-hour investigative hearing. “You don’t get to override the law,” he angrily told a panel of Reading First officials. “But the fact of the matter is that you did.”
The Education Department’s inspector general, John P. Higgins Jr., said he has made several referrals to the Justice Department about the five-year-old program, which provides grants to improve reading for children in kindergarten through third grade.
Higgins declined to offer more specifics, but Christopher J. Doherty, former director of Reading First, said in an interview that he was questioned by Justice officials in November. The civil division of the U.S. attorney’s office for the District, which can bring criminal charges, is reviewing the matter.
Doherty, one of the two Education Department employees who oversaw the initiative, acknowledged yesterday that his wife had worked for a decade as a paid consultant for a reading program, Direct Instruction, that investigators said he improperly tried to force schools to use. He repeatedly failed to disclose the conflict on financial disclosure forms.
“I’m very proud of this program and my role in this program,” Doherty said in the interview. “I think it’s been implemented in accordance with the law.”
The management of Reading First has come under attacks from members of both parties. Federal investigators say program officials improperly forced states to use certain tests and textbooks created by those officials.
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