State Journal: Writing to confuse?

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In containing the words "writing to read,'' a recent New Mexico law ended up written to be misread, causing headaches for its sponsors.

The measure, passed as an amendment to a spending bill last spring, appropriated $3.5 million to purchase computer equipment for statewide distribution to schools so that children could use a computer-based language-arts program to develop literacy skills.

The measure said "the writing-to-read programs should be implemented in kindergarten and 1st grades'' and in other grades later on.

Because all names except those of people and New Mexico political subdivisions appear in lower case in state legislation, it was unclear whether or not the bill referred directly to the trademarked Writing to Read software marketed by the International Business Machines Corporation.

When state education officials set out to buy the computers and software, they found that the I.B.M. package was the only one with that title or function approved by the purchasing office in the state's department of finance and administration.

Alan Morgan, the state superintendent of public instruction, asked the state attorney general for legal guidance, and was told in a letter that the words "writing to read'' were apparently intended only to illustrate the type of program the legislature was contemplating, and the education department could buy comparable products from vendors other than I.B.M.

But an aide to Mr. Morgan said the state chief was convinced that lawmakers meant for him to buy the I.B.M. product, and his office struck a deal in August with I.B.M. and Computerland of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the only vendor in the state that installs I.B.M. products.

But the deal drew scrutiny last month, when the Albuquerque Tribune reported that Speaker of the House Raymond G. Sanchez, the computer appropriation's chief sponsor, had once been retained by the owner of Computerland, which stood to make more than $400,000 from the state computer purchase.

An Albuquerque woman bearing 1,000 signatures subsequently appeared before a state ethics committee and demanded a public hearing.

In a letter to the Tribune, Mr. Sanchez last month said the words "writing to read'' were not in the legislation he had proposed, but were added in committee, and were never meant to refer to a specific product--although I.B.M. vendors were extensively involved in legislative hearings.

He called any suggestion that he supported an I.B.M. purchase for the benefit of Computerland "patently absurd.''--P.S.

Vol. 13, Issue 10

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