Inspector General Faults New York's Handling Of 'Reading First' Grants

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The New York state education department erred in awarding Reading First grants to New York City and eight other school districts, and could not provide supporting evidence that any of the 66 districts participating in the program met all the requirements of the law, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education found in a report released today.

All told, the districts received more than $200 million for participating in the federal reading initiative.

New York state officials should return $118 million in Reading First grants, including the $107 million for New York City, and provide documentation that the rest of the participating grantees are meeting the program's strict guidelines, the inspector general recommended in the report, the third in a series on Reading First.

The report found that New York state officials made numerous mistakes in evaluating grant proposals for Reading First, a $1 billion-a-year program under the No Child Left Behind Act, to bring research-based reading instruction to the nation's struggling schools.

"Our work disclosed significant deficiencies in [the state education department's] internal control for assuring and documenting that [local] applications met the Reading First requirements prior to awarding subgrants," says the report, which was sent by Daniel P. Schultz, a regional inspector general.

The inspector general has been conducting a broad review of the program over the past year in response to complaints that federal officials forced states to adopt or encourage the use of specific commercial products and consultants.

The first of six reports was released in September. It was a scathing critique of the federal Education Department's management of the program following an examination of program documents, e-mail correspondence between federal employees and consultants, and interviews. ("Scathing Report Casts Cloud Over ‘Reading First’," Oct. 4, 2006.)

Last month, an audit of Wisconsin's Reading First program faulted state officials there for failing to hold all grantees to strict standards. The remaining reports are due out by the end of the year, according to officials in the inspector general's office.

In the case of the nine New York districts, state officials misscored the grant applications, according to the report. The state awarded the grants even though the proposals from those districts did not earn the minimum score from an expert review panel.

Overall, state officials did not document adequately how each of the 66 grantee applications met federal requirements. The report states that critical documents had been destroyed or could not be located.

State officials disagreed with most of the findings.

"The IG's audit is absolutely wrong," Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the New York education department said in a statement. "We approved only those applications that met all the standards required by the law and the U.S. Education Department's rules, and we have the reports of the expert reviewers and other documentation to prove it."

Moreover, he added, "results show that the children who received the funding got extra help and improved their scores on well-respected reading tests."

Vol. 26

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An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of money New York state officials should return in Reading First grants for New York City.

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