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Committee's First Investigative Hearing Since 1994 to Focus on Reading First

Yarmuth Investigates Reading First, "The Enron of Education"

(Washington, DC) Thirteen years after the House Committee on Education and Labor conducted its last investigative hearing, Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-3) and the committee convened today to investigate the conflicts of interests in the Reading First program, now considered "the Enron of Education."  The committee focused specifically on Kentucky's inability to secure grants in 2002 because the state refused to switch from its proven assessment tool to the one advocated by the Department of Education-a computer program with which the department has at least one apparent conflict of interest.

"Kentucky education system was held ransom for an entire year so that some unscrupulous bureaucrats could line their pockets," Congressman Yarmuth said following the hearing.  "This education profiteering, in which our students were made to suffer, has no place in our government, and it certainly has no place in Kentucky."

Despite assembling a top notch proposal, the Kentucky Department of Education was denied Reading First funding three times in 2002.  Starr Lewis, Kentucky's Associate Commissioner of Education and a Louisvillian, testified that the program director for Reading First, Christopher Doherty bullied the state into buying DIBELS, a brand of assessment software that would have been redundant in Kentucky due to an exemplary assessment system already in place.

After the third rejection, Lewis wrote to Doherty explaining her position and defending their software.  Doherty never replied, but in the fourth attempt to secure funding, Lewis dropped the established assessment program for DIBELS and was finally approved after losing out on funding for the 2002 cycle.

It was subsequently discovered that board members, technical advisers, and even Doherty himself had personal financial interests in the software they were recommending to states.  Each time Reading First granted funding to a state that utilized DIBELS, certain grantors stood to gain financially.  One Reading First technical advisor who doubled as an licensed DIBELS trainer, Joe Dimino, made $15,000 from DIBELS training since the implementation of Reading First.

Doherty admitted to Congressman Yarmuth today that, "We obviously didn't do a very good job of keeping the perceptions of conflicts of interest from taking root."

Reading First is a $1 billion dollar annual program that focuses on literacy for children in kindergarten through third grade.  Although it was celebrated at its inception, in practice, the program has been mired in scandal throughout its five year history.

Congressman Yarmuth, who will soon introduce his own literacy legislation, said that he drew lessons from the hearing on how to ensure that his bill, the Striving Readers Act, is implemented fairly and effectively.  The Striving Readers Act will monitor conflicts of interest more closely and give the states more control.