If it wasn't for his family name and the deep pockets of the U.S. taxpayer, Neil Bush would undoubtedly be living in poverty and/or in prison, or both. Instead, he's collecting "money for nothing and the chicks for free". The New York Times reports:
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 president’s 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. Bush’s company, Ignite! Learning Inc., 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 Ignite’s 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. Ignite’s 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.
“We have absolutely no influence or control over decisions our individual customers make about how they choose to purchase our products,” Mr. Leonard said, adding that Ignite sold its products in “an ethical, straightforward manner.”
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 citizens’ 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 district’s director of special education, Fred Shafer, supported the purchases, telling other officials that “all the kids love the Cow, and it really meets the needs of the students with disabilities,” according to an internal e-mail message obtained by the citizens’ 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 citizens’ 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 Bush’s 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: “It’s not helping kids at all. It’s not helping teachers. The only way Neil has gotten in is by his name.”
Much of the product’s 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 “in order for the schools to keep the Cows in subsequent years they will have to pay an annual fee of $1,000,” according to documents obtained by the citizens group.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the group, referring to No Child Left Behind, said: “A constant principle of N.C.L.B. is that children must be taught using scientifically proven methods. Ignite’s Cows simply don’t 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 president’s brother.”
Last week, 'Poppy' (George H.W. Bush) told us he'd like to see another generation of Bushes in public office:
This is a family that has no idea how to make an honest living, without insider patronage and sweetheart 'no bid/no competition' deals.