By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Four officials who helped oversee a federal reading program for young students have pocketed significant sums of money from textbook publishers that profited from the $1 billion-a-year initiative, a Democratic congressional report disclosed yesterday.
The report from the office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) offers fresh details on the extensive financial ties between publishers and officials who helped implement the Reading First program. Over the past several months, the program has faced numerous allegations of conflicts of interest and cronyism.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is expected to face questions about the program, a key provision of the No Child Left Behind law, from a House oversight committee today. David Dunn, her chief of staff, said the department is reviewing the report's findings.
Congress and the Justice Department are examining the initiative, which provides grants to improve reading for children from kindergarten through third grade.
Kennedy's report focused on how much current or former directors of three regional Reading First technical assistance centers have earned in recent years from publishers: Douglas Carnine (more than $800,000), Edward Kame'enui (more than $750,000), Joseph Torgesen (more than $50,000) and Sharon Vaughn (more than $1.2 million).
All four denied wrongdoing, and two accused Kennedy of distorting the situation for political benefit. "The report is inaccurate, unfair and has no basis in fact," said Lizette D. Benedi, an attorney for Kame'enui, who works for the Education Department as commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research.
Carnine and Torgesen still run regional Reading First centers. "At no time did anyone from the Department of Education or anywhere else tell me that [the earnings from publishers] was a problem as long as I disclosed my contracts," Torgesen said.
The four officials were not covered by federal conflict-of-interest rules because they worked for a contracted company, not the department, experts said. Kennedy said the rules should be tightened.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.