Story updated Aug. 13 to include the U.S. Department of Education’s reason for denial.
The state’s effort to give more control to local districts in choosing after-school tutors for struggling students has been denied by the U.S. Department of Education.
In a letter sent to the state Tuesday, senior advisor Ann Whalen said she declined to waive an Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, requirement to provide supplemental educational services because the state has the ability to make the changes it wants without a waiver. The requirement is part of No Child Left Behind, as the act is commonly known.
The state requested a four-year waiver to relieve districts from a requirement to spend up to 20 percent of Title I federal funds for low-income students on supplementary educational services that are largely provided by private companies off-site. California argued that its schools spent about $507 million on these services over three school years, but found little evidence of improved student academic performance.
In light of this, the State Board of Education and California Department of Education proposed that districts be allowed to develop and administer their own programs, designed and monitored by highly qualified teachers. Since these programs would likely be offered at schools, they would be more convenient for parents and would enable teachers to provide feedback on student progress, the state said. However, districts that wanted to continue contracting with outside tutors could have continued to do that, according to the proposal.
“We strongly believe decisions about how and where to provide services to students are best made at the local level,” Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “Districts are in the best position to design extended-day intervention strategies to provide assistance to low-income students who are struggling academically in subjects such as English language arts, mathematics, and science.”
Torlakson said he was disappointed the federal government did not approve the state’s waiver request. But, Whalen said in her letter that schools and districts can provide tutoring services if they apply to the state. In addition, she said the state has the authority not to renew contracts for providers that fail to meet state standards or are of low quality.
Bill Ainsworth, communications director for the state Department of Education, said Thursday that he would not comment on the denial letter, since it speaks for itself.
However, Torlakson’s prepared statement suggested that the state disagreed with the federal government’s perspective.
“California has led the way in giving districts the opportunity to make their own decisions about how best to use state and local resources to meet their local needs,” he said. “Unfortunately, this decision goes in the other direction and retains policies that significantly limit local control and decision-making, and reduce student access to high-quality extended-day instruction.”
Congress is currently considering two separate bills to reauthorize the Elementary Secondary Education Act. Neither bill would require districts to set aside 20 percent of Title 1 funds for supplemental services, Torlakson said. He also noted that the U.S. Department of Education has granted waivers to 43 states and eight large CORE districts in California.
When the state board decided to seek the waiver in May, board President Michael Kirst said he believed district-run programs would be better aligned to what’s being taught in the classroom.
At the time, several districts supported the waiver proposal. Some said students didn’t take advantage of existing programs and that some tutoring providers submitted invoices for tutoring that never took place and forged students’ signatures.
Staff writer John Fensterwald contributed to this report.