Pinellas superintendent asks state to end tutoring mandate
Florida's top education official promised Tuesday to crack down on tutoring firms, following a series in the Times that found lax state oversight had allowed crooks to earn tax dollars. Today, Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego asked Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to scrap the program entirely.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Grego requested that Bennett release school districts from a state law that forces them to use federal dollars to employ tutoring providers. Florida had that freedom - via a No Child Left Behind waiver from the federal government - but state legislators put it into law at the urging of the tutoring industry.
Grego called it "unnecessary state control."
Here is the letter:
I hope that you are comfortably settling into your role as Florida’s Education Commissioner. As I mentioned to you in December when we spoke at Roland Park K-8 Magnet School for International Studies, I’m grateful that you agreed to take on the challenge of being our state’s educational leader. I am encouraged by what you’ve accomplished for our students and families at this point in your tenure.
I’m reaching out to you today with a specific request concerning the Supplemental Education Services (SES) component of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. I read with great interest your statement deploring abuses in the state’s Title I-supported tutoring programs as recently reported by the Tampa Bay Times, and I am in total agreement with you that we must demand the highest levels of accountability from SES providers. I fully support your four-pronged effort to explore avenues to make sure that students enrolled in SES programs receive quality tutoring. However, I am interested in pursuing a more direct route to a solution.
As you know, I worked with the U.S. Department of Education and the Florida Department of Education to obtain the ESEA flexibility waiver that was submitted in November 2011 and fully approved in February 2012. I was heartened when Florida, along with Indiana, became one of the first states in the nation to successfully petition the Department in this matter.
As you also are aware, the waiver provided complete flexibility to local districts in regard to Title I appropriations. For your reference, I am including the specific wording from the waiver that pertains to this topic:
The requirements in ESEA section 1116(c) for an SEA to identify for improvement or corrective action, as appropriate, an LEA that, for two consecutive years or more, fails to make AYP, and for an LEA so identified and its SEA to take certain improvement actions. The SEA requests this waiver so that it need not comply with these requirements with respect to its LEAs. (ESEA Flexibility Request, Page 4)
What I am requesting is that the SES state requirement be lifted as the federal waiver provided.
I do not believe that we need to maintain unnecessary state control when Florida has previously been granted complete flexibility. The ESEA waiver in no way prevents districts from using Title I funds to employ supplemental education service providers as they see fit. Please understand that as a superintendent, I will continue to seek providers who can best serve our students, especially our struggling students. I am certain that Florida’s other superintendents are committed to doing the same.
I am eager to discuss this matter with you either in person or by phone. I am available for such a conversation at any time that is convenient for you. I look forward to assisting you as you continue to address ways to provide the best quality tutoring for our students.
Michael A. Grego"