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Bush Brother’s Firm Faces Inquiry Over Purchases

Ohanian Comment: While the lobbyist for IRA is busy urging members to extol the virtues of Reading First, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)uncover sleaze and sues the U. S. Department of Education for corrupt practices.

Last December, CREW sued the U. S. Department of Education and Margaret Spellings based on the DOEâs failure to release certain records required by law to be made public.

With our unions and professional organizations playing collaborationist roles on NCLB, we can certainly be grateful for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington targets government officials who sacrifice the common good to special interests through high-impact legal actions.

I just sent them a donation.

By Marilyn W. Thompson

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 â The inspector general of the Department of Education has said he will examine whether federal money was inappropriately used by three states to buy educational products from a company owned by Neil Bush, the presidentâs brother.

John P. Higgins Jr., the inspector general, said he would review the matter after a group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, detailed at least $1 million in spending from the No Child Left Behind program by school districts in Texas, Florida and Nevada to buy products made by Mr. Bushâs company, Ignite Learning of Austin, Tex. Mr. Higgins stated his plans in a letter to the group sent last week.

Members of the group and other critics in Texas contend that school districts are buying Igniteâs signature product, the Curriculum on Wheels, because of political considerations. The product, they said, does not meet standards for financing under the No Child Left Behind Act, which allocates federal money to help students raise their achievement levels, particularly in elementary school reading.

Ignite, founded by Neil Bush in 1999, includes as investors his parents, former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Company officials say that about 100 school districts use the Curriculum on Wheels, known as the Cow, which is a portable classroom with software to teach middle-school social studies, science and math. The units cost about $3,800 each and require about $1,000 a year in maintenance.

Ken Leonard, the vice president and chief financial officer at Ignite, said the company had no way of knowing if districts were using federal money to buy its products. Igniteâs Web site advises potential clients that it is appropriate to make purchases with No Child Left Behind dollars, as well as federal money for poor and disadvantaged children and special education students.

âWe have absolutely no influence or control over decisions our individual customers make about how they choose to purchase our products,â Mr. Leonard said, adding that Ignite sold its products in âan ethical, straightforward manner.â

Ignite also has a program called Adopt-a-Cow in which corporations buy the equipment and donate it to schools or to charities supporting school districts. An Ignite spokesman said seven Cows were donated last year to the Fund for Public Schools in New York City.

The citizensâ group obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request showing that the Katy Independent School District west of Houston used $250,000 in state and federal Hurricane Katrina relief money last year to buy the Curriculum on Wheels.

The districtâs director of special education, Fred Shafer, supported the purchases, telling other officials that âall the kids love the Cow, and it really meets the needs of the students with disabilities,â according to an internal e-mail message obtained by the citizensâ group. Mr. Shafer did not return calls for comment.

Neil Bush has assertively marketed the Cow and, according to the company, the product has been placed in 22 states. This summer, Ignite announced plans to expand into China.

The citizensâ group says it has documented only a small part of the federal money spent on Ignite products. Ignite has had strong support from districts in Texas, President Bushâs home state. This week, the Houston Independent School District is set to consider whether to authorize schools to spend an additional $300,000 from various financing sources on the Curriculum on Wheels.

Jay Spuck, a former curriculum director for the district, has criticized spending on the Ignite product, saying: âItâs not helping kids at all. Itâs not helping teachers. The only way Neil has gotten in is by his name.â

Much of the productâs success in Texas dates from a March 2006 donation by Barbara Bush, who gave eight units to schools attended by large numbers of hurricane evacuees.

Neil Bush followed up with an e-mail message telling the district that âin order for the schools to keep the Cows in subsequent years they will have to pay an annual fee of $1,000,â according to documents obtained by the citizens group.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the group, referring to No Child Left Behind, said: âA constant principle of N.C.L.B. is that children must be taught using scientifically proven methods. Igniteâs Cows simply donât meet N.C.L.B. standards. This suggests that the real reason N.C.L.B. funds are expended on Ignite is because the founder and C.E.O. is the presidentâs brother.â

— Marilyn W. Thompson
New York Times


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