A $1 billion reading program that is a key part of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind education law was mismanaged and rife with conflicts of interest, according to an internal audit released on Friday.
The audit by the inspector general’s office of the Reading First program — the largest early reading program in U.S. history — found that officials in 2002 and 2003, shortly after the program was established, improperly tried to influence states on which curricula they should use.
In addition, some officials with the power to approve certain reading materials for states had connections with the publishers, according to the report. It said the department had not properly reviewed the officials for such potential conflicts.
"The department did not identify any of these connections in its conflict of interest screening process; therefore, it would not have been in a position to deal with the potential conflict raised by these connections," the report said.
The director of this reading program at the Education Department will leave his post this month to return to the private sector, a department spokeswoman said.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has taken to improve the department’s screening process and management, the spokeswoman told Reuters. It has also taken the steps recommended by the inspector general to avoid conflicts of interest.
"Some of the actions taken by Department officials and described in the Inspector General’s report reflect individual mistakes," Spellings said in a statement.
"Although these events occurred before I became Secretary of Education, I am concerned about these actions and committed to addressing and resolving them," she added, vowing to put all the inspector general’s recommendations in place.
The department acknowledged there had been issues with management and conflicts of interest, but said the program had been successful in improving reading skills among younger students.
Reading First has served more than 1.7 million students in kindergarten through third grade.
State educational agencies have received over $4.8 billion in Reading First grants, helping about 5,600 schools.
© Reuters 2006