Common sense is anything but commonplace in Washington. That's why it was sadly familiar to read E.J. Dionne Jr.'s attack on the 21st Century Community Learning Centers budget ["The 3 to 6 Gap," op-ed, March 7] and David Broder's reiteration of the same arguments ["Cutbacks to Our Children," op-ed, March 23]. These illogical opinions equated spending increases with better results and mistook good intentions and noble bill titles for effective services.

When parents can't afford to be home, community programs can be an important resource for keeping children safe. Since this program was founded in 1995, spending has soared from $1 million to nearly $1 billion this year.

It is irresponsible to continue funding increases unless they improve academic achievement or foster positive behavior. According to an independent study done for the Clinton administration, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program fails on both counts. It has not reduced the number of latchkey children or increased reading scores. And participants were actually more likely to sell or use drugs than nonparticipants.

Both columnists failed to point out that Congress itself turned the original 1995-2003 seed grant program into a state grant program for 2004. Yes, the service remains necessary, but we also are duty-bound to find a way to do it well.

Nothing is more unfortunate than a poorly spent education dollar. On behalf of President Bush, the Department of Education is working to spend wisely so that no child is left behind.

ROD PAIGE

Secretary

U.S. Department of Education

Washington