Representative George Miller Interview on the Reading First Program
NOTE: This is posted on the Committee on Education and the Workforce website, George Miller, ranking Democrat,
along with a notice: This is an unofficial transcript and maybe be subject to revision.
Does this mean we should be hopeful about Miller? No.
The Ed Schultz Radio Talk Show
Ed Schultz: Mr. Miller, great to have you back with us. You called for a criminal investigation into the Reading First program. What’s happening? Tell us about the program –for those who have not been following this—and, from what you can see, what has unfolded?
Rep. Miller: This program is part of No Child Left Behind. It is a billion dollars a year commitment by the federal government to improve the reading skills of children in elementary and secondary education. And it’s a good idea and it’s important that we did it and Congress has appropriated $5 billion over the last couple years. What we’re now finding out from the Inspector General within the Department of Education is that this program has been completely corrupted since its inception. The Inspector General raises the question whether any of these contracts were let in accordance with the federal government’s guidelines. There was an effort from the very beginning, from the selection of the people who would establish the criteria, from the corruption of the criteria, to the corruption of the wording of the contracts that would establish the vendors, and then even people from the federal government going into the states and school districts and pressuring them, browbeating them to give up the reading programs they had for one of the ones favored by this panel. I believe that there are serious conflicts of interest within this panel. There are quite possibly financial relationships either during before or after these panels that raise very serious questions about a department-wide effort to steer these resources, contrary to federal law, to favored vendors.
Ed Schultz: The bottom line is, you can pass all the legislation in the world, if you don’t know how to administer it, you’re just throwing money away. Congressman George Miller with from California with us on the Ed Schultz show. How do you corrupt the criteria—what do you mean by that?
Rep. Miller: Well, this was supposed to be a process where we selected those reading programs that had the best results, the best outcomes for the development of the reading skills of these children. What you have—some of these reading programs are owned by the largest publishers in the world and these contracts are worth a billion dollars a year—and so you had a feeding frenzy of selected people getting put on the panel that were not free of conflicts of interest, that did not disclose their conflicts of interest, and that were trying to steer this billion dollars a year to what appears to be favored vendors. Some of those programs were fine, but they were not awarded in an independent way. They were awarded with a corrupt process, essentially.
Ed Schultz: So we’ve got a combination of FEMA and Halliburton all rolled into one here, right?
Rep. Miller: Ed, you put your finger on it. They made a decision at the outset over where they wanted these contracts to go and they wanted them to go to their friends, whether they were past friends when the President was Governor of Texas and Secretary Paige was the Secretary of Education in Texas [sic]. And they were going to steer these contracts, just like they steered contracts to Halliburton in Iraq, just like they steered contracts in the first days after Katrina, and the fact is that we’re now out $5 billion.
Ed Schultz: Okay, and you want the Justice Department to open up a criminal investigation on this?
Rep. Miller: I don’t think there’s any alternative because I don’t know how you get to the bottom of this. The Secretary has suggested that, well, these were mistakes that were made in the past and let’s all look forward. No, this was a program-wide, department-wide, concerted effort to distort and corrupt the process so that they would get the results that they wanted. And at the prejudice of other programs that were very effective, that states were very positive on—these programs were just pushed aside so that this money could be directed to these Bush-favored vendors.
Ed Schultz: Well, this is the kind of thing that just gives public education a bad name and…
Rep. Miller: No, this is the Department of Education and the Bush administration that is corrupting the public education process. That’s the tragedy.
Ed Schultz: Yeah, I know. They’re over there saying--they’re pushing school vouchers and everything else and I think we all know what No Child Left Behind is really doing to the American education system.
Rep. Miller: This is no contractor who’s favored by the Bush administration left behind. “C” doesn’t stand for child anymore, it stands for contractor now.
Rep. George Miller
The Ed Schultz Radio Talk Show
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES