Obama ed chief criticizes Florida’s GOP-led Legislature on tutoring standardby John Kennedy | May 17th, 2012
U.S. Education SecretaryArne Duncan ridiculed Florida’s Republican-ruled Legislature on Thursday for sidestepping a sought-after waiver from the federal government to help private vendors retain lucrative tutoring contracts.
Speaking in Washington, D.C. ,to the Florida Council of 100, the business-dominated advisory group, Duncan criticized lawmakers for requiring school districts to spend 15 percent of federal funds for low-income students on private tutoring programs.
Under pressure from state officials, the Education Department had granted Florida and several other states waivers that shielded them from a federal standard demanding that a set amount be spent on tutoring.
State officials had argued that data was inconclusive about whether the tutoring programs, which range from online to in-home student assistance, were effective.
“I find it ironic that Washington is offering flexibility but Tallahassee is taking it away,” Duncan said.
A federal study released this month analyzed results from No Child Left Behind tutoring programs in Connecticut, Ohio and Florida. It found that for students in grades three through eight, there was “no statistically significant impact” on performance in reading or math.
“Why is Florida keeping the set-aside for tutoring that is showing little or no impact on children?” Duncan asked. “Is it because of pressure from the industry?”
The Florida legislation (SB 7127) takes effect July 1. It was signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott.
The Council of 100 has long been an ally of Republican governors. But in recent weeks, the council’s appeals to Scott have fallen on deaf ears.
The council sent a letter last month urging Scott to veto legislation creating the state’s 12th public university, giving independence to the University of South Florida’s Polytechnic campus in Lakeland. The council also called for Scott to approve legislation giving the University of Florida and Florida State University authority to charge whatever tuition they wanted, as part of a push to enhance the schools’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.
Instead, Scott approved the new university — and vetoed the UF/FSU tuition bill.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, praised Duncan’s criticism of the Florida legislation. He called on Scott to suspend the 15 percent requirement before the law takes effect in July.
”This statute will deny our school districts the flexibility the Obama Administration intended to give them by awarding Florida this waiver,” said Deutch, a former Florida state senator. ”At a time when school districts throughout Florida are struggling with inadequate resources, top-down mandates, and high-stakes testing, we cannot afford to spend 15% of our state’s Title I funds on an ineffective, for-profit earmark for private vendors.”
Stephanie Monroe of the Tutor Our Children Coalition in Washington, which represents providers of the service, swung back at Duncan. She questioned the accuracy of studies that challenged whether the tutoring effort was effective.
“Secretary Duncan’s comment today on free tutoring services offered to low-income students at under-performing schools misrepresents the program and does a disservice to the 74,000 students who access free tutoring in Florida,” Monroe said.