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Where Has All the RF Money Gone?


A few years ago, I queried a few states looking for itemized budgets for Reading First. I was curious to learn what similarities and differences were in the kinds of things individual states were spending their millions in federal grant monies on.

Of course, much of the money was spent in very visible ways—well-attended and well-organized professional-development sessions, new instructional materials, reading coaches in every school—but there were also rumors that some of the money was being spent hastily on nonessentials simply because there was so much cash on hand, or to meet spending deadlines.

Alas, there were no such reports available, or at least I couldn't figure out what to ask for or how to get my hands on them.

I fully expected, however, that the U.S. Department of Education would ask for annual line-item reports from states to make sure the money was being spent properly. You may recall that the department had been very demanding of states in getting the fine details of how they would carry out the strict requirements of Reading First. (I also fully expected, naively it seems, that the federal studies of Reading First would actually give us some definitive information on how well the $1 billion-a-year program was working.)

But as far as I can tell this didn't happen.

Until now, that is. Yesterday, the Ed Dept. issued a Notice of Proposed Information Collection related to Reading First expenditures.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't really see the point now that the program is essentially being phased out. If the money was spent unwisely at any point, or even if it was used efficiently, isn't it too late to use that information? (There were some data collected in the 2004-05 school year, ED officials tell me, as part of an analysis on the targeting and use of funds across federal education programs, but that report hasn't been released yet.)

In any event, the notice asks for public comment on the following questions:

"(1) Is this collection necessary to the proper functions of the Department; (2) will this
information be processed and used in a timely manner; (3) is the estimate of burden accurate; (4) how might the Department enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (5) how might the Department minimize the burden of this collection on the respondents, including through the use of information technology."


As always, you've hit on a key issue. How in the world can the U.S. Department of Education issue reports measuring the effectiveness of the Reading First program if we haven't done any sort of data collection to see how RF money is being spent? We expect that RF schools are implementing the program with fidelity and using funds for the instructional materials, interventions, and PD mandated by the law. But no one can prove it. For a law about scientifically based research, it seems we have less and less actual research about the law.

What's wrong in taking the responsibility; or if that is too harsh a word, the initiative to personally seek the answers to these questions on how the Federal Government spends our money?

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