Politics & Government

Free tutoring for low-income kids? Details still en route for many parents

Many parents in the state received letters last month telling them that their children may be eligible for free tutoring, a result of Washington state losing its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

But not all school districts are requiring that parents sign up their child for the tutoring services just yet. For many eligible parents, more details about the free homework help are still coming in the mail.

At least six school districts in Pierce County, including Tacoma Public Schools, are sending parents more information about the tutoring opportunities close to or shortly after the start of the school year.

Other districts sending follow-up letters to clarify their offer of free tutoring include Seattle Public Schools, Franklin Pierce, Puyallup, Sumner, Bethel and the Peninsula School District.

In most cases, the second letter will include a list of state-approved tutoring providers, as well as an official application form that parents can fill out.

“We have some notifications going out in addition to what we already sent,” said Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans. “We’re trying to be as transparent as possible.”

Officials in the Bethel School District sent out letters Aug. 7 that mistakenly informed parents that they had to return the enclosed forms requesting tutoring services by Aug. 22.

But the deadline given in those letters was inaccurate, district spokeswoman Krista Carlson said Friday. In fact, the school district in East Pierce County is accepting applications on a rolling basis, she said.

Even so, families should return the form or contact the district as soon as possible if they are interested in accessing free tutoring, because a limited amount of funding is available for the program, Carlson said.

“The sooner they get their application in, the better,” Carlson said.

The extra tutoring services — officially known as Supplemental Educational Services — are being offered at no cost to low-income parents at many high-poverty schools. Under the provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, school districts must set aside 20 percent of their yearly Title I grant money to pay for the extra academic help.

Washington had been granted a reprieve from the federal law for the past two years. But this year the federal government revoked the state’s waiver, saying Washington hadn’t made necessary changes to its teacher and principal evaluation system.

Title I schools that haven’t met the rigorous standards set by No Child Left Behind for at least three years must offer low-income families the free tutoring.

For families in Tacoma, the follow-up letter will most likely also include the date of a school-sponsored event where parents can learn about and choose tutoring providers, said district spokesman Dan Voelpel.

“Those details need to be worked out first,” Voelpel wrote in an email.

Puyallup also plans to hold a vendor fair at which parents can talk one-on-one with prospective tutors and ask district officials questions. Following that event, which is set for Sept. 23, parents will still have a 10-day window to sign up their children with the tutoring provider of their choice, said Kathy Ehman, chief special services officer for the Puyallup School District.

Other districts have set earlier deadlines by which parents have to submit applications and have already sent parents all the information they need to request the extra tutoring.

Parents of children in the North Thurston Public Schools system had until Aug. 30 to return the tutoring request forms they received in the mail. A spokeswoman for the school district said school officials plan to open up enrollment again later in the fall.

Other school districts are giving parents a little more time to sign up at the beginning of the school year. Families in the Olympia School District have until Sept. 30 to return their forms requesting tutoring, while the Steilacoom and Clover Park school districts are giving parents until Oct. 1 and Oct. 3, respectively.

State officials recommend that parents who want more information about the tutoring services contact their child’s school or school district. Most of the letters sent home to parents in August contain contact information.

Parents can also view a list of tutoring companies approved by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction on the state agency’s website ( k12.wa.us/TitleI/SES).