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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Tutoring programs set to survive Florida's NCLB waiver



When Florida won its No Child Left Behind waiver in February, school district officials looked ahead to the expected end of free, private tutoring that came with the federal program.

Then the state Legislature stepped in.

At the end of session, in a bill aimed at implementing Florida's waiver, lawmakers required school districts to spend 15 percent of their Title I funds to pay for the tutoring program in 2012-13. District officials have been complaining ever since.

They brought their concerns to USDOE officials at several national events over the past few weeks, and have been hoping for some resolution that has yet to arise. They had hoped to take the 20 percent of Title I funding that had been dedicated to tutoring programs by outside vendors and put it to other uses, primarily serving more low-income students and schools with added in-school services.

"If that money was in the hands of the schools, we could be doing a far better job of remediating or enriching those students with those funds," Elena Garcia, Title I supervisor for Pasco County schools, told the Gradebook. 

She and others have over the years questioned the value of the outside tutoring companies, which have received millions with limited oversight or analysis of their performance. In Florida, 74,299 students received tutoring services during the 2010-11 school year, according to the state.

Meanwhile, districts have been on hold as to how to spend the money, even as the time arises for schools to begin hiring for next year using their expected Title I allocations. "We are in a high state of confusion," said Garcia, who has consulted with her peers across the state.

But change might not be in the offing, as Florida never committed in its waiver application to eliminate the tutoring program. Rather, it simply applied to have the flexibility to end the tutoring set-aside if leaders so desired.

So while USDOE officials have expressed concerns about Florida's plan to continue mandating tutoring -- "We don't think [mandating SES] is the best use of that money," acting assistant secretary Michael Yudin said at a recent conference, according to Education Week. "We need to figure out how to address the Florida situation. We're not just going to sit and do nothing." -- they can't necessarily do anything about it.

The feds continue to seek a compromise.

"Florida and all states operating under flexibility made a commitment to better serve schools and students in need, and we urge them to collaborate with their districts to fulfill those commitments," USDOE assistant press secretary Liz Utrup told the Gradebook. "The department is in communication with the state and will continue to work with them to make sure they are fulfilling their obligations."

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education referred all questions on the subject to the USDOE. A similar situation is arising in Maryland, as the Baltimore Sun reports. (Thanks to Ed Week for pointing out the story there.)

[Last modified: Friday, March 30, 2012 3:09pm]


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