Audit Faults Wisconsin’s Reading First Grant Process

Wisconsin education officials failed to ensure that schools and districts that received federal Reading First grants adhered to the program’s strict guidelines, a failing that, if not rectified, could cost the state nearly $6 million of its $45 million allocation, a federal report concludes.
The audit by the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general, dated Oct. 20, found that nine of the state’s 26 grant recipients had not received the required approval of a review panel and may not have met all the requirements for receiving the money.
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, November 1, 2006

State officials acknowledged that some of the local grant proposals were stronger than others, and they agreed with the inspector general that the state needs to monitor more closely the program’s implementation and give additional guidance to Reading First schools and districts.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction “supports the Reading First program and will do whatever it takes to guarantee successful implementation of all its programs,” Julie Enloe, Wisconsin’s Reading First coordinator, wrote in her response to the inspector general.
The report is the second of six reviews of the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program being conducted by the inspector general. The first, released in September, was a scathing critique of the federal Education Department’s management of the program following an examination of program documents, e-mail correspondence between federal employees and consultants, and interviews. (“Scathing Report Casts Cloud Over ‘Reading First’,” Oct. 4, 2006.)
‘Is This All There Is?’
The new report is limited to Wisconsin’s performance in administering the grants. Little detail about the state’s difficulties in getting approval for its grant during the program’s rollout in 2002 and 2003 is given.
Some Wisconsin educators had complained, for example, that consultants and reviewers rejected the specific reading programs the state had proposed, and pressured them to adopt other programs or assessments.
There is also no explanation of the decision by officials in the Madison school district to give back its $2 million grant shortly after it was approved. Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater decided to drop out of the program after federal consultants told district officials they would have to abandon their existing literacy initiative and adopt a commercially published core reading program, he wrote in a detailed memo to the school board. (“States Report Reading First Yielding Gains,” June 8, 2005.)
“Is this all there is?” Kathy Champeau, who heads a task force on the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the Wisconsin State Reading Association and is a member of the state’s Reading First leadership team, said of the inspector general’s audit.
“I was shocked at the limited scope of the report,” she said, “and that it didn’t address … the coercion the state faced to use certain published programs.”
Those issues, however, were not within the scope of the audit, which was to determine whether the state education department followed the requirements of the Reading First program in issuing the grants to local education agencies, the report says. Other audits may include more detail on the Wisconsin program.
Ms. Champeau contended that the Wisconsin department went to great lengths to monitor the grants and ensure that the participating reading programs were of high quality.