With state waiver, schools get ready to dump program

/ 2 June 2012 / jennifer

Jeffrey Meitrodt, Star Tribune, June 2, 2012 –

The federal government’s tutoring program for low-income students at failing schools becomes optional next fall, and many educators in Minnesota can’t wait to kill it.

The state obtained a waiver in February that freed districts to dump the program or retool it to fit their needs.

Administrators at eight of the 10 school districts with the state’s biggest tutoring budgets — including St. Paul and five other districts in the Twin Cities metro area — have decided to disband the program at the end of the current school year.

Officials in Duluth said they will let officials at individual schools decide whether to participate.

In Minneapolis, the school district will continue to offer free tutoring to some students. But local officials plan to use the waiver to address problems with the current program, such as the high rates charged by tutoring services.

Federal officials said that was the intent of granting waivers to Minnesota and other states.

“We don’t think the one-size-fits-all mandate from Washington is working,” said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of elementary and secondary education. “It doesn’t fit the needs of every district.”

For the first time next fall, schools will be able to select their own tutoring providers. But the Minnesota Department of Education will no longer require tutoring firms to obtain state approval.

Instead, state officials will work with participating districts “in a support role to ensure they are hiring the best providers,” department spokesman Keith Hovis said.

If failing schools don’t offer tutoring, they can spend the available money on other state-approved activities, including professional development for teachers, said Jessie Montano, the department’s deputy commissioner.

Montano said she would not advise any districts to keep operating the “flawed” Supplemental Educational Services program.

Florida and Colorado are taking a different approach. While those states also obtained waivers, they will continue to require school districts to offer tutoring.

In Florida, that commitment will last for at least one year.

“I don’t have a lot of patience for low-performing schools that are thumbing their nose at SES,” said Patrick Chapman, who oversees tutoring as federal programs director for the Colorado Department of Education. “If I were a parent, I wouldn’t necessarily want more of the same from a school that has been failing to deliver. I think I’d want to get that flier saying my kid was eligible for these services.”

Jeffrey Meitrodt • 612-673-4132