Ohio drops federally funded tutoring program

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio Department of Education is dropping a federally funded tutoring program that was hit with allegations of fraud and wrongdoing, a change enabled by the state's recent waiver for the No Child Left Behind law.

The state had overseen the "supplemental educational services" program for students at low-performing schools for a decade, but the state auditor began investigating it after allegations of fraudulent billing and tutoring in unsafe conditions, The Columbus Dispatch reported Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that Ohio was among eight more states granted a waiver on some key rules of the No Child Left Behind law. In all, 19 states have so far been given the waivers in exchange for promises from the states to improve how they prepare and evaluate students and other states are seeking them.

Rules waived include those governing the tutoring program, the Dispatch reported.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Stan Heffner, last fall had ordered an overhaul of the tutoring program for the next school year. He said it was too troubled to continue without changes and had planned to require all of the more than 250 tutoring groups to reapply if they wanted to stay in business in Ohio.

That will no longer be necessary thanks to the federal waiver, which gives the state more flexibility in the way it uses federal funds.

With the state no longer evaluating tutoring groups, school districts will "be able to own their program," said Patrick Gallaway, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, which oversaw the federally required tutoring program.

"I'm hopeful it will be much more smooth and effective," Gallaway said.

Now it will be up to school districts to decide what services students in struggling schools need most and who should provide them, said Cynthia Lemmerman, the director of federal programs for the state education department. Districts will be able to choose their own tutors and could rehire those they think did a good job, officials say.

Federal funds set aside for the tutoring program could be used instead to extend the school day in low-performing schools and provide targeted intervention for students who need extra assistance.

Under the supplemental educational services program, districts had to pay the tutoring group that parents selected from a list of state-approved providers and there were few requirements on who could operate as a tutoring group.

The Columbus City Schools district, which had nearly 3,200 students tutored through the federal program this past school year, cited tutoring programs when their practices weren't considered effective or safe and had added measures to prevent fraud.

"We believe we can be more effective with the flexibility that will be provided," said Columbus schools spokesman Jeff Warner.

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