- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

The Education Leaders Council, a pro-Bush school-reform group, will rely on federal funds to push a national school-improvement agenda since its chief was unable to raise $12.3 million in private funds, according to council documents.

Lisa Graham Keegan became the $235,000-a-year chief executive officer of the ELC in June 2001 with the goal of raising $12.3 million from six foundations and other donors over the next three years. Her goal was to match a donation of $600,000 from William J. Hume, a founding benefactor and board member, according to an “ELC Expansion Proposal” she submitted both to Mr. Hume and then-ELC Chairman Jim Nelson, Texas education commissioner.

However, the ELC’s financial statements show that Mrs. Keegan spent 6 percent of her time on private fund raising and brought in less than $2 million in donations over the ensuing three years.

Mr. Hume contributed $700,000 of that amount but resigned last month from the ELC’s board of directors after an auditor’s report that time spent by ELC officers on federally funded projects was improperly documented.

Mr. Hume and others complained that the ELC had become excessively reliant on millions of dollars in federal funds awarded by the Bush administration for two school-improvement projects: a computer-based instructional system called Following the Leaders (FTL) and an alternative teacher-licensing initiative called the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE).

“For [2003], through September, ELC had received $9,508,147 in revenues, $8.162 [million] in federal grants and $253,332 for marketing ABCTE,” Mr. Hume wrote in a November memo to council directors. “Government and marketing grants were 88 percent of revenues.”

About a third of ELC’s 12-member board of directors last fall started a chorus to get the problems out in the open and force some management changes.

Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota’s education commissioner, called high compensation of ELC’s top staff an “outrage” and described problems highlighted by auditors as a “scandal” and “incompetence.”

“There is an undercurrent that this is all about money” because ELC conferences were dominated by vendors, not education practitioners, Mrs. Yecke wrote in a Sept. 21 memo.

“There is no accountability, which seems to me to be the height of hypocrisy. We are calling for schools to be held accountable, but there is no accountability for the organization or its staff,” she said.

Mrs. Keegan agreed with much of the criticism and promised to make changes.

“I need to spend a much more significant amount of my time ‘spreading the gospel’… and raising private funds for the organization,” she told William J. Moloney, then ELC chairman, in a July memo. “We are too reliant for the moment on [federal] program funds and haven’t sufficient flow of regular operational funding.

In an interview last week, Mrs. Keegan defended ELC’s primary emphasis on the federal projects.

“We actually do the work on the ground rather than writing white papers,” she said. “That’s how we distinguish ourselves.”

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