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Chicago School Tutoring Standoff with Feds Ends

Ohanian Comment: Here are two articles covering the same topic. Read all the way through and you find out that Chicago "tutors" in groups of 15 students. That sounds like group instruction, not specialized instruction. One thing not mentioned in either article is the fact that tutors provided by private firms don't have to meet any NCLB "highly qualified" standards.

Deal with State Keeps 40,000 Kids in CPS Tutoring Program
by Shamus Toomey
The Sun-Times


More than 40,000 Chicago Public Schools students will be allowed to remain in district-run tutoring programs until the end of the school year, under a new funding deal that will cost the schools and the state $5 million, officials said.

The students ran the risk of being uprooted from their tutoring programs by Thursday after the U.S. Education Department last month demanded the School Board stop using federal money for in-school tutoring.

Under the No Child Left Behind law, school districts such as Chicago's that fail to meet federal standards must ship students to private tutors in order to qualify for federal funding for the tutors.

The schools were facing a Thursday deadline to resolve the issue. After failing to persuade the Education Department to let the schools continue receiving money and tutoring its students in-house, the board and the state decided to foot the feds' portion of the bill themselves, officials said.

The School Board will pay $4 million and the state will pay $1 million, said interim state Education Supt. Randy Dunn and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan.

But to come up with its $4 million, the school system must reach into its $40 million summer school budget. Duncan said he hopes to replace that money without cutting summer school offerings but admitted there could be an impact.

The tutoring agreement, meanwhile, "is a real win for kids," he said. "We were threatened with the kids losing services second semester. The program is going to continue, and that's a major win for kids."

4 times as expensive

More than 80,000 CPS students receive tutoring, with fewer than half going to private tutors. Because private tutors can be four times as expensive -- $1,200 per student compared with $300 for in-school programs -- school officials said far fewer kids would have gotten help under the federal government's decree.

Those students can remain in the programs and will not even notice a change, Duncan and Dunn said. "That was our No. 1 concern, that we would have to turn off the spigot for kids in the program," Dunn said.

Duncan praised the state for contributing. State officials said the $1 million it will pay will come from a separate pot of federal education money not tied to the No Child Left Behind standards.


School Tutoring Standoff Ends
City Keeps Control, Forgoes U.S. Funds
by Tracy Dell'Angela
Chicago Tribune


Chicago Public Schools will continue to run its own tutoring program for 40,000 struggling students through the end of the school year, but it won't use federal No Child Left Behind funds to pay for it.

That means Chicago must find an extra $5 million in an already stretched budget to cover the costs of offering this after-school program at 287 schools. The Illinois Board of Education has agreed to give Chicago a $1 million grant to help offset the cost.

Schools chief Arne Duncan threatened to sue the U.S. Department of Education last month. The agency had barred the district from using federal funds to run its tutoring program because the district is failing academically.

The district's decision, expected to be formally announced Monday, ends what had been a bitter standoff between Chicago and the federal department. The district had been banking on a compromise that would have allowed it to spend the federal money through the end of the year.

Duncan said he would have preferred not to have to dig into the district's budget, but he's happy the program will continue uninterrupted. The district plans to pay for the tutoring with money earmarked for summer school, with the hope the district can find an extra $4 million in the next five months without having to cut any summer programs.

"This is the right outcome for kids," Duncan said.

Under the federal law, schools that fail to meet test standards three years in a row are required to offer free tutoring to low-income students. All districts pay for this academic enrichment from federal grants earmarked under No Child Left Behind, the most sweeping education reform in decades.

Private companies, religious institutions, schools and districts are eligible to run the tutoring programs. But the law bars low-performing districts, such as Chicago, from running a tutoring program. An entire district is identified as low performing if it fails to meet goals two years in a row. This is the first year the sanctions have applied to Illinois districts.

The federal government also targeted nine other low-performing Illinois school districts, which have a total of about 1,000 children in district-run tutoring, state officials said.

Many of these have already figured out a way to continue tutoring. Cicero District 99 will turn over management of its program to a specific school that is allowed to provide tutoring because it is meeting federal goals. Dolton and North Chicago expect private tutoring companies to pick up children now served by district programs.

The battle over Chicago's program began in 2003, when the state board approved Chicago as a tutoring provider even though it was clear the district soon would fall short of federal requirements. Eugene Hickok, U.S. undersecretary of education, warned then that the approval violated the spirit of the law.

Hickok reasoned that allowing Chicago to tutor children was akin to rewarding the district "because they didn't get it right the first time." Despite this warning, Chicago expanded its district-run program this year, which now serves about half of the 80,000 students receiving the federally mandated service.

Chicago said the law is flawed because the district would not be able to reach as many students if forced to rely solely on private companies. The district's program is far cheaper--about $400 per student for about 80 hours of help, compared with the $800 to $1,500 charged by private providers.

But Chicago also tutors students in groups of 15, while outside organizations offer class sizes of 8 to 12 students per tutor. Chicago budgeted $52 million to cover tutoring this year--about $15 million for its own program and $37 million for private providers.

Federal officials were far more conciliatory after learning of Chicago's decision to back off from its threat to file a lawsuit.

"We've always been hopeful of reaching an agreement on this issue that is so vitally important to Chicago's students," Education Department spokeswomen Susan Aspey said.

Randy Dunn, interim state superintendent of education, said he believes Chicago won one concession in its showdown with federal education officials: The district will not have to repay the estimated $10 million in federal funds already spent on its own program. If the district doesn't spend all of its No Child Left Behind money, it would be rolled into next year's allotment.

Although the state board is facing its own budget crisis, it managed to find an extra $1 million in unspent grant money to help Chicago. The money comes from a federal grant targeted for school improvement.

"Our goal in the very beginning was for kids not to have an interruption in service," Dunn said. "From our standpoint, the kids won."

Copyright 2005, Chicago Tribune

— Shamus Toomey and Tracy Dell'Angela
Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune
2005-01-31


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