Federal funding to boost tutoring

Bad news is expected Thursday when the results for No Child Left Behind are released, but there's always hope for next year when new federal stimulus money kicks in, providing new services such as private tutoring for high school students.

The Clark County School District is not likely to meet the benchmarks of the federal school accountability law for 2008-09, said district officials who requested anonymity.

This is after two years in which officials often boasted that Clark County was the only school district among the top 10 biggest districts in the nation to make the standard.

If there's hope for the new school year, 2009-10, it's the federal stimulus providing Clark County with $57 million in new aid for schools serving large populations of low-income students.

District officials anticipate offering private tutoring at no cost to high school students for the first time.

Previously, the district offered the tutoring to a small percentage of elementary and middle school students who qualified.

In the 2008-09 school year, less than a fifth of the eligible students, 5,302 of the 27,310, received the tutoring.

Students are put on waiting lists because of inadequate federal funding, said Patsi Saas, the director of Title I programs for the district. Last year, the district had $6.9 million to pay tutoring costs of up to $1,373 per child.

Lorraine Buompane, the grandmother of Hailey Domingo, an 8-year-old student at Beckley Elementary School, said the one-on-one attention from a tutor made a difference.

Hailey "went from a D student to an A and B student," Buompane said.

Maya Richardson of Tutoring For Excellence made home visits "for an hour to two hours" at a time. "She was excellent," Buompane said.

Richardson, who also works as a teacher in the school district, called the program an equalizer because children of wealthier families have always had the benefit of tutoring. "This is what makes this country great," she said.

Because students' access to private tutors depends on criteria such as their eligibility for Free and Reduced Lunch and their school's results under the No Child Left Behind Act, which will not be made official until August, it was not clear how many more students would qualify for the tutoring, Saas said.

The district is building a Web site to publicize the tutoring program for the 2009-10 school year.

Federal aid for tutoring is not without its critics. A study in Clark County by the University of Memphis showed negligible results for the 2007-08 school year. Seven of 10 contractors did not make a "statistical impact" on reading scores.

But tutors might not have had much of an opportunity to make a difference.

Because tutors charge between $32 and $70 an hour, students might get only 24 hours at the most with a tutor over the course of a school year, said Fawn Lewis, an educational consultant with the Nevada Department of Education.

That is less than an extra school week.

But Lewis added, "Any help is good help as far as I'm concerned."

The tutors range from moonlighting teachers who start their own services to nationally known companies such as the Sylvan Learning Center. The Clark County Education Association Foundation, an extension of the teachers union, also provides tutoring services.

The Nevada Department of Education has approved 17 contractors for Clark County. The contractors are evaluated and monitored by state and local officials.

But School Board member Carolyn Edwards wonders whether the program gets enough oversight.

And School Board President Terri Janison resents the federal mandate that the school system must set aside a portion of its Title I funding, aid to schools with low-income students, for tutoring services.

She can think of better uses for the money.

If the federal government allowed the district to "let us pay our teachers more, let us reduce our class sizes, let us do the tutoring, I think you would see a much better outcome," Janison said.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.