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A New Jersey Department of Education investigation has corroborated the state attorney general's charge that state vocational-education officials illegally channelled nearly $1 million in contracts, Education Commissioner Saul Cooperman told the state Board of Education this month.

Mr. Cooperman said he ordered the internal investigation last November after learning of the state legal office's probe of favoritism and other irregularities in the vocational-education division's handling of grant proposals from local school districts and from a vocational clearinghouse associated with Rutgers University.

"What we had working was a highly circuitous system, geared to friends and an old-boy network," Mr. Cooperman told the board. "Such actions constitute violations of public trust and fiduciary responsibility as well as abuse of authority."

The department's investigation found that, in fiscal 1988 alone, the state awarded $800,000 in "tainted" grants, he said. The state disbursed $190,000 but was able to stop payment on the remaining $610,000.

His investigation found, he said, that since 1985 a total of $800,000 in state and federal money had been disbursed under the scam.

Six department officials, including Gordon Ascher, head of the division, have been fired and another has been suspended since the situation came to light; Mr. Cooperman has declined to link the personnel changes with the investigation.

The board appointed Lloyd J. Newbaker to head the vocational-education division. Mr. Newbaker has been acting director for the past two months. Before that, he was a special assistant to Mr. Cooperman.

The state attorney general's investigation is expected to be completed in about six weeks.

A Rhode Island program that awards forgivable college loans to talented high-school seniors who plan to teach had attracted so little interest by the end of last month that state officials decided to extend by two weeks the March 1 deadline for accepting loan applications.

The ensuing press coverage of the decision to extend the deadline, however, appears to have given the program a needed boost. By March 7, 42 students had applied for the 20 available loans, up from seven students the week before, according to Mary Ann Welch, an analyst for state's higher-education assistance authority.

State officials had been relying on high-school guidance counselors to tell students about the program, which awards $5,000 a year to top-ranking seniors who intend to pursue teaching careers.

"Sometimes it takes parents reading an article in the paper before they get on the backs of their kids and say go apply for this program,'' Ms. Welch said last week.

Two years of teaching in the state's public schools will pay off one $5,000 loan.

Nearly 400 people from a wide range of careers--more than three times the number that can be accommodated--have applied to participate in Connecticut's new "alternative route" to teacher certification.

The high number of "exceptionally well qualified" applicants reflects the success of the state's educational improvements over the past few years, according to Traci Bliss, executive director of the Institute for Effective Teaching of the state's department of higher education.

"People believe teaching is an exciting place to be right now," she said.

Under the program, created by a 1986 school-reform law, 125 prospective teachers will, for a $1,500 fee, take an intensive eight-week training course at Wesleyan University this summer. Those who successfully complete that course will receive 90-day certifications to teach in public schools, after which they can apply for longer-term certifications.

Vol. 07, Issue 25

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