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Three Cups of Tea: Educators mull halting support for Pennies for Peace

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A 75-page e-book, Three Cups of Deceit, written by well-known journalist Jon Krakauer and published April 18, contends that Mr. Mortenson’s books and public statements are “permeated with falsehoods.” The e-book said Mr. Mortenson has misled schoolchildren through his promotion of the Pennies for Peace program. It reports, for example, that in 2009, students donated $1.7 million to Pennies for Peace, but the Central Asia Institute spent only $612,000 on building or supporting schools. The exposé noted that Mr. Mortenson says in public appearances that “every penny” of every donation made to Pennies for Peace supports schools.

Mr. Mortenson has “repeatedly subverted efforts by his Montana-based staff to track effectively how many schools have been built, how much each school actually costs, and how many schools are up and running,” writes Mr. Krakauer.

In an April 22 email to Education Week, Anne Beyersdorfer, a spokeswoman for the Central Asia Institute, said every penny collected by schoolchildren goes to schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She said schoolchildren raised $2.5 million through Pennies for Peace in 2009 and 2010. The Pennies for Peace income and expenditure reported by Mr. Krakauer for 2009 is correct, she said, but added that “the balance remains in the Pennies for Peace fund for use as new schools are built, and educational needs are determined by communities we serve.”

Ms. Beyersdorfer said Pennies for Peace funds have never been used to buy books written by Mr. Mortenson. When asked what financial information she could provide to allay educators’ concerns that schoolchildren’s money was not well spent, she referred Education Week to “field reports” in an online publication of the institute, “Journey of Hope.”

The most recent “Journey of Hope” report [PDF] says that by November 2010, the institute had established or significantly supported more than 170 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the report provides more detailed information only about several of the schools, and tells what it cost to build and run only one of them.

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