Tutoring Not Required Under a Federal Waiver

New York City schools that fail to meet performance targets will not have to offer students federally financed tutoring services, now that New York State has won a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. But the city says if principals want to keep paying for tutoring with federal dollars they may, at least for this coming school year.

For the past decade, school districts had to set aside 20 percent of their federal Title I dollars so students attending schools labeled "in need of improvement" could sign up with tutoring services, and travel to other schools if they wanted to transfer. That federal set-aside amounted to about $100 million annually in New York City.

The tutoring services were criticized as inconsistent and poorly regulated. With their businesses on the line, many tutoring companies have been lobbying hard to keep principals paying them for their services. New York State's waiver allows principals more flexibility so the money can be used to support students based on specific needs and not just because it is mandated.

Districts with low-performing schools will be able to use between 5 percent and 15 percent of their federal money on various state-approved activities, including professional development for teachers. Neither the exact amount of money nor the list of which schools fall into the low-performing categories has been determined.

The waiver also has allowed the state to eliminate the onerous label Schools in Need of Improvement, or SINI, that was a mark of shame during the No Child Left Behind era. This fall, the state will label the bottom 5 percent of all schools "priority" and call another 10 percent "focus" schools. The state's Education Department said it's still finalizing the list of priority and focus schools for New York City.

With about 1,600 public schools, not including privately managed charter schools, more than 200 New York City schools will be labeled priority or focus. These schools will have to draft reform plans, but the city says their principals will be able to choose how to spend their federal dollars for student support services, including using the tutors they were mandated to use previously.

Assemblyman Karim Camara of Brooklyn said he hoped decisions were made quickly because "many parents are not even aware that these services will eventually be cut," referring to the tutors.

Mr. Camara said he would again seek to pass legislation requiring some of the federal money to be used for tutoring because many parents cannot afford to bear the costs themselves. A previous effort failed in the spring.

"I was a strong supporter and will remain a supporter of a plan that allows the money to go directly to the services provided to the students as opposed to leaving it at the discretion of districts throughout the state," he said.

The tutoring industry has been pushing hard for states with No Child Left Behind waivers to continue to offer services, even though some critics question their effectiveness.

A handful of tutoring providers in New York have also come under scrutiny for improper billing.