Low-income kids get free tutoring

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500 slots for school district program went unfilled last year; deadline is Friday

Free after-school tutoring is available for low-income students at San Francisco public schools that have low overall scores on state standardized tests, but parents have to sign up by Friday to qualify for the extra educational help.

Last year, more than 500 slots for the free program went unfilled in San Francisco. Critics charged that the district did not do enough to publicize the program because unused funds go back into a general pool for the low-achieving schools.

This year, the district has opted not to hold the enrollment fair as it had in prior years to inform parents about the tutoring and available providers, because it drew only about 40 participants last year, according to officials.

However, the letter inviting parents to the meeting went out in students’ backpacks only 10 days before the Saturday event and only to a limited number of parents — to prevent potential over-enrollment, a school official said last year.

Qualifying low-income parents are allowed to choose from a list of service providers — ranging from private education giants such as Kaplan to district-run tutoring groups — and the district picks up the nearly $1,500 per-student tab.

“As long as they’re eligible for free or reduced lunch and their child is performing at basic or below in English language arts or math, they’re eligible for these services,” said Ky Vu, the district official overseeing the tutoring program.

This year, the district will rely on the letters as well as school principals to get the word out about the tutoring program, Vu said.

Last year, 11 tutoring service providers divided the district pie, with Sylvan’s Education Station getting the biggest slice of business — 271 students and a $385,773 contract. The district offered its own tutoring service called EXCEL, and recruited 68 students.

Poor parents are eager for free tutoring, said Giselle Quezada, an organizer for the community group ACORN, which has rallied around the need for better communication and outreach to parents whose children attend academically struggling schools.

“The principals are already overwhelmed with the work they do,” Quezada said. “Why not have the teachers send a note to the parents and then have a meeting to make sure the parents understand all of the programs available for their child?”

Parent-teacher conferences in San Francisco’s public schools are scheduled for the week of Oct. 30 through Nov. 3, however, after the free-tutoring application period.

Eric Earling, a regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education, said anecdotal evidence suggests that some districts have been “unenthusiastically meeting the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law,” by not giving parents proper notice of the free tutoring option.

No Child Left Behind requires service

School districts are required to provide free after-school tutoring, called Supplemental Education Services, under the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

Under the controversial federal law, a certain percentage of students each year at public schools must score at grade level on state standardized tests. That benchmark is called Adequate Yearly Progress, and the percentage of students gets higher each year because the federal government wants all students — including English language learners and disabled students — to pass the tests by 2014.

If a school fails to reach the AYP mark for more than two years, it faces an escalating list of sanctions, beginning with providing students with an option to transfer and free tutoring, and after four years, possible closure or staff replacement.

beslinger@examiner.com

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