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NCLB Outrages

Yield Documents, Lawmaker Tells White House

By KAREN W. ARENSON

The chairman of the House education committee asked the White House yesterday to turn over all its communications about the scandal-tarred student loan program and also Reading First, the administration’s $1-billion-a-year reading initiative, which has been besieged by accusations of conflict of interest.

The request by the lawmaker, Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, carries his inquiries into education policy-making beyond the Education Department itself and into the Bush White House.

“The committee’s ongoing investigations into both programs have revealed serious oversight failures by senior officials,” Mr. Miller’s office said in a statement.

The White House communications sought include those from Margaret Spellings, the current education secretary, who previously served as President Bush’s domestic policy adviser. Ms. Spellings is to testify on both programs next week before Mr. Miller’s committee.

Emily Lawrimore, a presidential spokeswoman, said that the White House had received the congressman’s request and that “we will review it and respond accordingly.”

Steve Forde, a spokesman for the committee’s Republicans, said, “Overly broad and politically motivated fishing expeditions will not restore faith in these programs — programs that continue helping millions of students learn to read and attend college, even to this day.”

The development yesterday was the latest turn in a variety of inquiries into a student loan industry that leading federal lawmakers and state investigators say benefits from weak oversight and has an unacceptably close relationship with the Education Department.

As for Reading First, the Education Department’s office of inspector general has sharply criticized the department’s handling of the program, accusing its officials of violating conflict-of-interest rules when awarding grants to states and of steering contracts to favored textbook publishers.

In addition to his request to the White House, Mr. Miller asked the Education Department yesterday for records of communications from several of its current and former high-ranking officials, including Rod Paige, former secretary; William D. Hansen, former deputy secretary; Eugene W. Hickok, former under secretary and then deputy secretary; and David Dunn, the current chief of staff.

Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for the department, said it was reviewing the request.

Separately, the department sent out notice that it had begun to tighten security measures surrounding access to a national student loan database that contains personal financial information on millions of student aid applicants.

Users of the database seeking information about a student will, for example, have to provide a birth date and a first name, as well as a Social Security number. And users will be shown several random letters or numbers and be asked to retype them on the screen, an approach Broadway ticket sellers use to help prevent computerized systems from buying up multiple tickets.

Secretary Spellings suspended lender access to the database in mid-April, because of fears that loan companies or other marketers were improperly obtaining information on potential borrowers. That suspension remains in effect.

— Karen W. Arenson
New York Times
2007-05-02


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