Tutor Program Must Change, U.S. Says
by Dale Mezzacappa, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 2,
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School District must make changes to its after-school program by
September to continue as an approved tutoring provider under the
No Child Left Behind law, the U.S. Department of Education has
The legal decision is another salvo in the dispute between the
federal department and big city school districts, which must
divert millions in federal aid to outside tutors for low-income
students in underachieving schools. In Philadelphia, 155 schools
with 110,000 students fit that category, and about $20 million
is at stake.
This part of the federal law is designed to expand parental
options. But several urban districts, including Chicago, have
complained that the tutoring is expensive and virtually
unregulated and doesn't reach enough needy students. In
Philadelphia, tutors get $1,800 a child.
School district CEO Paul Vallas has pursued policies designed to
acquire most of the so-called supplemental educational services
(SES) funds for his own programs, which he says can provide
academic help at less cost to more needy students.
His policies prompted three private tutors to appeal to
Washington after the state Department of Education approved the
Philadelphia Intermediate Unit (IU) - a separate legal entity -
as a provider that could compete with them to sign up children.
Districts that meet federal improvement goals are barred from
being tutors themselves.
In a 10-page answer to that appeal dated Friday, federal
education officials said that the Intermediate Unit could
continue as a provider, but must further separate itself legally
from the school district. In addition, it must separate the
services given to students eligible for the tutoring under the
law from those given to other students in the extended day
program. Extended day is at least an extra hour of math and
"They have to set up something separate and do a major overhaul
of what they were doing," said Nina Rees, the U.S. assistant
deputy secretary for innovation and improvement. "It sounded as
if they were using the SES money to fund extended day."
The federal department also said that the district must rephrase
its informational letters to parents so that the IU's program
isn't favored over private tutors.
"The district will have to treat [the Intermediate Unit] program
the same way it treats everyone else," Rees said.
To another part of the complaint, the department said the
district could require tutors to complete most of their work in
time to have students ready for state tests in March.
Vallas described the decision as a victory for his approach,
which has sought to get extra academic help after school to as
many students as possible. More than 37,000 students are
enrolled in extended day.
"They said we can continue the program until the end of spring
semester, and then need to make changes," he said. "We have no
problem with that."
The district sent 114,000 letters to parents in the 155 eligible
city schools, but only about 8,100 families sought tutoring. Of
those, a little more than half were deemed eligible, and more
than half of those families chose the district's own program.
Philadelphia also has been criticized for limiting eligibility
for the private tutoring to parents receiving public assistance;
most other districts use eligibility for free and reduced-price
lunch, a more generous standard that includes the working poor.
That decision has not been legally challenged.
Leon Williams of Action Reading and Math in South Philadelphia,
one of the providers that brought the appeal, said he doesn't
think the decision was a total win for Vallas.
"I think what this means is that they don't have carte blanche
to do what they want," he said.
The U.S. Department of Education forced Chicago to end its own
tutoring program serving 40,000 students last month and
outsource the services.
Chicago, which didn't set up a separate legal entity for its
program, was able to continue the tutoring until June only after
getting $1 million from the state and finding other money in its
budget besides the federal aid it was supposed to set aside for
the private tutors.
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