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Few Needy L.A. Kids Get Promised Tutoring

Only 4 percent of the thousands of poor students in struggling Los Angeles public schools who were eligible for tutoring got the help they were promised under the federal No Child Left Behind law, officials said Tuesday.
During a sometimes-heated, three-hour conference to encourage increased participation, parents complained that they were never told about the tutoring program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which sometimes offers the same type of service for which parents pay $2,000 a year to private companies.

"The problem is that many of these programs, the parents are not aware of," said Maria Leon, a Griffith Middle School parent.

Federal officials, firms that provide tutoring services and school board President Jose Huizar joined in the chorus of condemnation of LAUSD failure to enroll more students in the program.

"It's astounding to me that we're not doing more," Huizar said. "These are poor kids who need the personalized attention to education. I think there is not a strong enough effort for us to do all the outreach we can."

School districts are required under the No Child Left Behind law to use a portion of their federal money to provide extra academic support for students whose household incomes are low enough for them to qualify for free and reduced school lunches. Also eligible for tutoring are students who have failed to meet academic improvement goals for more than one year.

In 2002-03, however, the LAUSD provided tutoring to fewer than 7,000 out of 164,434 eligible students -- not quite one out of every 23. Of nearly $60 million in federal funding for the district, only $1.8 million was spent on tutoring. The average cost per student is $1,500.

"You're clearly not meeting that demand right now," said Melanie Looney, a staff member for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Work Force.

Companies that provide tutoring services said they face a number of obstacles in the LAUSD. The district restricts their contact with principals and parents. In addition, parents who might not have legal immigration status are nervous about applying for the service and doubtful that it is free.

"It is the travesty that 90 percent of the eligible students are not signing up," said Carl Benson, owner of Tutors of the Inland Empire. "I've had (advertising) money refused. I don't know what else I can do."

This year, the number of eligible students in the LAUSD will jump to 230,000, and the district will be asked to set aside about $80 million for tutoring and other services. The required tutoring can be offered before, after or during school. It can also be provided on weekends.

Becki Robinson, who oversees the tutoring program for the district, said the maximum number of students the LAUSD can serve is about 45,000. She said funding shortages prevent the district from more aggressively recruiting students.

"If we got all 230,000 kids, we couldn't serve three-quarters of them because the money isn't there," Robinson said.

But federal officials said the LAUSD is not taking the right stance on the extra services. School officials should be trying to reach every student who qualifies, not setting a cap on the program before it is even close to being filled, critics said.

Public schools in New York City, the nation's largest district, provided tutoring to about 65,000 of 212,000 eligible students last year, officials said.

"The difference is the attitude," Looney said. "My perspective is that (the LAUSD) is sending the wrong message."

Federal officials lauded some of the LAUSD efforts, including providing registration information in five languages, but said the low participation numbers show that something isn't working.

"It's the difference between working hard and working smart,' said Doug Mesecar, the federal education secretary's deputy chief of staff for policy. "The bottom line here is this is an ends to a means to getting all students to do better."

Parents who are interested in learning more about the tutoring program should contact their schools before the Sept. 30 deadline. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunches at more than 23 schools in the San Fernando Valley are eligible, including Cleveland, Monroe, Reseda, North Hollywood, Polytechnic, San Fernando and Sylmar high schools.

Jennifer Radcliffe, (818) 713-3722 jennifer.radcliffe@dailynews.com

— Jennifer Radcliffe
Los Angeles Daily News


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