Bill Bennett Boondoggle?: Former Ed. Secy. Hits Funding Jackpot

Money from a federal program intended to expand public school choice has instead been used to prop up a scheme cooked up by William J. Bennett to boost home schoolers in Arkansas, Education Week has reported.

Newspaper staffers David J. Hoff and Michelle R. Davis report that a for-profit firm called K12, Inc., run by former Education Secretary and "drug czar" Bennett, has received $4.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education. Bennett's outfit received the tax funding under a provision in the "No Child Left Behind" education bill that is designed to expand options in public school choice.

There's just one problem: The provision in the education bill is supposed to offer options to students enrolled in failing public schools. But Bennett's business is aimed at helping parents who engage in home schooling and does nothing to benefit students in public schools.

So how did Bennett, a harsh critic of public education, get the cash? Through a paperwork shuffle and bureaucratic sleight of hand, education officials in Arkansas declared the home-schooled students public school attendees - even though they are not required to spend one day receiving instruction in a public school. The only requirement imposed on the home-schooled kids so far is that they must take a statewide test at their local public school.

What's even more troubling is that Bennett's firm apparently ended up with the tax-funded windfall despite contrary recommendations from peer reviewers at the U.S. Department of Education. Department employees who oversee the public school choice program initially suggested funding for 10 programs, basing their decision on recommendations from peer reviewers. Bennett's K12 Arkansas project was not among them. Education Week reported that K12's proposal did not score high enough among the peer reviewers to win a funding recommendation.

But the Department of Education bypassed the peer reviewers and added Bennett's program to the list. In doing so, the department dropped one program entirely and slashed funding for others.

One department employee involved in the process, who wished to remain anonymous, told Education Week, "Anything with Bill Bennett's name on it was going to get funded."

What is the end result of all of this? While students in Arkansas' under-funded public schools go begging, the youngsters taking part in the K12 experiment enjoy computer instruction and step-by-step lessons plans for parents to follow. A certified teacher stands by to offer guidance via telephone.

Perhaps the name of the "No Child Left Behind" law should be changed to "No Private School or Home-Schooled Child Left Behind."