Corruption in the Reading First Program

April 20, 2007
From the Education and Labor Committee:

Corruption in Reading First Program Shows Need for Additional Safeguards in the Law

During Hearing, Inspector General Confirms that Referral Has Been Made to Justice in Wake of Scandal

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- An investigative hearing by the House Education and Labor Committee today showed that mismanagement and conflicts of interests were pervasive in the federal Reading First program, and demonstrated the need for Congress to enact safeguards against such conflicts.

Under the Reading First program, the federal government provides grants to states to help them improve reading instruction. In September 2006, the Education Department's Inspector General issued the first of six reports on the implementation of the Reading First program. The first report showed that, in a number of cases, Education Department officials and contractors with deep financial and personal connections to specific reading products inappropriately promoted those products over others.

"Rather than provide an even playing field on which high-quality programs could compete based just on the merits for business with the states, these officials and contractors created an uneven playing field that favored certain products," said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the committee. "Indeed, we know of examples where states were essentially bullied to use these products in order to receive Reading First money."

Today's hearing is part of months-long inquiry by Education and Labor Committee investigators into the Reading First program, during which they have reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed dozens of individuals. Today the committee heard testimony from three former members of a committee set up by the Education Department to review products that educators use to assess children's progress in learning to read.

All three of those former committee members - Roland Good, Ed Kame'enui, and Deborah Simmons - benefited financially either directly or indirectly from the sale of a specific assessment product called the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Learning Skills (DIBELS). Goode was a co-author of DIBELS; so far, a company in which he owns a 50 percent share has received more than $1.3 million in royalty and other payments from the sale of DIBELS.

Kame'enui and Simmons were co-authors of a reading intervention product used in Reading First, which was packaged and sold together with DIBELS. They both confirmed at today's hearing that they each have received approximately $150,000 in royalty payments in the last year for the sale of that intervention product.

Miller said today that, during the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law, the committee will develop safeguards to prevent such problems in the future.

At today's hearing, the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General, John Higgins, also confirmed that his office has made a referral to the U.S. Justice Department in the wake of the scandal.

"Too many times in the Bush administration we have seen examples of officials abusing the public trust and misusing tax dollars. And we have seen way too many examples of cronyism and conflicts of interest that have undermined government's effectiveness," said Miller. "Now it appears that we can add Reading First -- on which we have spent roughly $6 billion since 2002 -- to that long and growing list of instances of the administration operating outside the law, unaccountable to Congress and the American people."