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Bush-linked educational firm pushes for stimulus money

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Check out what your district is buying.

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Neil Bush, a brother of former President George W. Bush started the educational products company.

A Texas educational software company founded by a younger brother of former President George W. Bush is urging school districts nationwide to tap President Obama's stimulus package to buy its products.

Ignite! Learning, based in Austin and founded by Neil Bush a decade ago, says its educational software products -- including the Curriculum on Wheels, or COWs -- qualify under several categories for stimulus funding.

"Get the facts and learn how to use stimulus dollars to get Ignite! curriculum," the company Web site states on its "Ignite! Funding Center" page.

It notes that $12.2 billion is earmarked for special education programs and $650 million is targeted for educational technology.

Ignite! officials declined to comment for this article.

Ignite! came under scrutiny two years ago when a nonprofit public advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, charged that school districts might improperly have used the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind funding for Ignite! products.

The nonprofit urged the Inspector General's Office in the U.S. Department of Education to perform an audit.

Although the IG's office agreed to look into the matter, an audit was never performed. An agency spokeswoman said this week that officials determined no basis existed to perform an audit and dropped the matter.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Tribune-Review that using stimulus money for Ignite! "would be the poorest choice" for the funding, citing the nonprofit's earlier report.

COWs are available for math, science and social sciences, according to the company. Recently the company began offering a computer network-based version of its products. It says its products meet curriculum requirements in dozens of states, including Pennsylvania.

Ignite! products have been used in schools in Houston, and dozens were purchased by the Clark County, Nev., school district, serving Las Vegas. It has customers in several other states, from California to Florida.

In addition to federal and local funding, dozens of COWs and other Ignite! products have been financed by private corporate donors, including Aramco Services Co., BP and Shell Oil Co. The Washington Times Foundation financed COWs for Washington, D.C, and Virginia school districts.

The nonprofit's report said that Ignite! products were not subjected to "peer-reviewed, scientifically rigorous" studies for effectiveness.

Ignite! says those studies are ongoing and lists several continuing and completed studies on its Web site.

Records with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that investors in Ignite! include Neil Bush and his parents, former President George H.W. and first lady Barbara Bush. Last year Ignite! announced that Neil Bush stepped aside as its head but would remain as a non-executive director. Texas records still list him as an officer and director.

— Walter F. Roche Jr.


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