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Monday, 25 September 2006 05:19

Bush Cronyism Strikes Schools as NCLB Used to Divert Billions to Big Supporters

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Iraq and New Orleans are not the only places where corruption causes taxpayer money to be spent based on Bush loyalty over merit. According to a new government report, the $5 billion Reading First program - a staple of No Child Left Behind - only allowed states to receive funding for curriculums developed by the publisher McGraw-Hill, Inc.

The Bush and McGraw families have been personally and professionally close since the 1930's. Campaign finance records indicate the McGraws, who still run the company, have been generous donors for Republican candidates in the last decade, including to Bush's campaigns. (Incidentally, the only Democrat recipient we were able to find was Sen. Joe Lieberman)

When No Child Left Behind became law, the Department of Education appointed Christopher Doherty as director of Reading First, who in turn stacked the committees charged with approving states' curriculums with people having "significant professional connections" to the McGraw program, Direct Instruction (DI).

The report includes damning correspondence from Doherty and is conclusive of his corruption and arrogance. Consider this exchange:

Doherty: "Funny that [the Baltimore City Public Schools official] calls *me* to inform that there may be some pro-DI folks on *my* panel!!! Too rich!"
Committee Member: "Does he know who you are? Past and present?"
Doherty: "That’s the funniest part – yes! You know the line from Casablanca, 'I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!' Well, 'I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this panel!'"

In another retort, Doherty exclaimed, "'Stack the panel?'…I have never *heard* of such a thing. . . <harumph, harumph>[.]"

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has denounced the cronyism and is pleading ignorance. However, a quick Google search reveals that educators have known about the problem for years. In September 2005, Education Week reported that states conspicuously had requests for alternative programs denied and were ultimately forced to use McGraw. Another site proves that experts were aware of the problem at least as far back as early 2004.

Though Doherty recently resigned in advance of the report, Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education Committee, thinks a further response is merited. "Everyone at the Department of Education who was involved in perpetrating this fraud on school districts should be fired – not suspended, not reassigned, not admonished, but fired," he said. "This was not an accident. This was a concerted effort to corrupt the process on behalf of partisan supporters, and taxpayers and schoolchildren are the ones who got harmed by it."

The report comes just after similar government findings of cronyism and corruption by the Departments of the Interior and Housing and Urban Development, along with stories that Iraq reconstruction officials were chosen based on Republican loyalty, not practical experience.

Miller has called for immediate congressional hearings on Reading First, but expressed little hope that House leaders would cooperate. "The Republican Congress is a giant rubber stamp for the administration," said Miller. "They always have been, and as long as they are in power, they always will be."