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PUSH-EXCEL Asked To Return Federal Funds

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Washington--The Education Department announced last week that it has asked a nonprofit educational organization founded by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to return more than $700,000 in federal funds that it says were misspent.

The organization, push for Excellence Inc., has until the end of this month to appeal the demand for repayment that was made by the department's contracts and grants office, according to John C. Yazurlo, ed's deputy inspector general.

A spokesman for the Chicago-based group, which is commonly referred to as push-excel, said it planned to ask the department's audit appeals board to overturn the ruling of the contracts office.

According to press reports, Mr. Jackson, who is running for the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination, criticized the timing of the announcement as "something very nasty and almost conspiratorial."

Day Before Primary

The department announced the request for repayment on April 9, one day before Pennsylvania's Presidential primary. It officially notified the organization of its findings in letters dated March 30 and March 31.

"They allege nothing criminal," Mr. Jackson told reporters while campaigning in Pittsburgh. "If in the end push owes any money, it'll pay what is due."

According to Mr. Yazurlo, push-excel received $3.1 million in five grants and contracts from the department between 1978 and 1980, of which $708,431 must be returned. The funds were for programs intended to improve attitudes among black inner-city youths about education and to help them move into the labor market following graduation from high school.

Last August, department auditors determined that the group spent at least $736,972 in violation of federal rules governing grants and contracts.

The auditors also indicated that push-excel could not provide adequate documentation or other evidence to prove that an additional $1.1 million was spent in accord with the regulations. (See Education Week, Aug. 31, 1983.)

In September 1981, the department temporarily revoked an $825,000 grant to the group because it reportedly refused to allow federal auditors to review its accounting procedures. The grant was reinstated after the group agreed to the review.--tm

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