Education

CA schools freed from costly after-school tutoring mandate

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California's schools are no longer required to send students to pricey for-profit and nonprofit tutoring providers, state education officials announced Monday afternoon.

California joined more than 40 states granted a waiver by the US Department of Education from sanctions established under No Child Left Behind, which mandated schools that failed to post higher test scores for low-income students pay for outside, after-school tutoring. 

Nearly 700 California districts spent $142 million on tutoring last school year, despite studies showing the providers returned small or insignificant improvement in student achievement.

"We wanted the flexibility," Tom Torlakson, state superintendent, told KPCC. "The money will be more effectively invested."

Federal officials are working with all states to begin early implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in December and overhauls NCLB over next couple years. 

Federal funds remain earmarked for academic intervention for struggling students from low-income families, but starting next year, districts will be able to decide how to spend it – whether on after-school tutoring with their own teachers, summer school or high school credit recovery. 

The policy change is expected to cripple the private and nonprofit tutoring industry, which garnered more than $500 million in California public school funds over three years. 

"The idea I think coming from Washington at the time was the schools couldn’t do it," Art Revueltas, Deputy Superintendent from Montebello Unified, said of the old policy. "They wanted outside people."

But the move to outside providers prompted a gold rush for tutoring companies, some with questionable education credentials and business practices. 

After No Child Left Behind passed, the We Can Foundation started tutoring students from Los Angeles Unified and grew to serve more than 100 districts from San Diego to Sacramento this year. The organization's vice president Clarence Eziokwu Washington said parents saw the value in one-on-one help outside crowded classrooms.

But Washington found he faced stiff competition from companies offering families free iPads, gift cards and other incentives to sign up. After receiving around $50 per hour for each student, he said, many companies provided mediocre services.

"All kinds of underhand things were happening," Washington said. "Some companies were strictly in it for the profits."

And in a 2013 report, the US Department of Education inspector general found a "significant increase in cases of fraud and corruption" among the nation's more than 4,000 tutoring providers.

Still, more schools fell under the sanctions every year. Federal expenditures for tutoring programs surpassed $1 billion annually in 2012, according the inspector general's report.

Public schools, meanwhile, struggled to pay teachers, librarians and nurses following recession-era budget cuts, and some cut back instructional days. States began to plead for relief from the federal government.

In 2011, the Obama administration announced it would offer states waivers from the No Child Left Behind mandates, but only to states that adopted controversial policies -- notably tying test scores to teacher evaluations. California teachers unions, as well as Torlakson and Gov. Jerry Brown, opposed that change, and the state's initial request for a waiver was denied.

Then, last December, Congress passed the Every Students Succeeds Act, which ended the NCLB's tutoring sanctions in 2017-2018 school year. California's waiver moves up that date by one year.