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Federal Officials Weigh Action in Florida Tutoring Scandal

The Tampa Bay Times has an important story about the "crooks" and "cheaters" that are pervasive in the tutoring industry that emerged in Florida under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The story uncovers criminals who were making money off of federal Title I funds that are used for supplemental education services, or SES, which is one of the interventions required when schools consistently fail to make adequate yearly progress under the NCLB law. We're talking a rapist, a woman who served probation when a baby in her care was scalded with hot water, and a man convicted of check fraud.

Now, wouldn't this seem to be a moot issue, since the U.S. Department of Education came along and freed states from the SES requirement as part of NCLB law waivers? Wrong. The Florida legislature, under lobbying pressure that another Tampa Bay Times story details, swooped back in and mandated SES again, despite the waiver.

At the time, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was critical of the decision, and even questioned if it was the result of the influence of the SES industry.

The Times' story points to very lax oversight by the Florida Department of Education.

Given that this is part of a federal program funded by federal Title I, will the feds do anything?

Yes, they will. U.S. Department of Education spokesman Daren Briscoe said today:

The allegations in the Tampa Bay Times story about SES providers are serious and troubling. Ensuring that states are good stewards of federal taxpayer dollars is one of the foremost responsibilities of the U.S. Department of Education, and there is no excuse for misuse of federal funds intended to support academically struggling students. The department has already been in contact with the Florida State Department of Education, and is discussing potential implications with our attorneys.

What kind of implications might there be? Whenever federal money is at stake, losing some of that money is always a potential consequence. It's likely the department's inspector general will investigate. Furthermore, this has implications for Florida's NCLB waiver, especially if the state continues to mandate tutoring. Federal officials, it would seem, might not be so keen to put their stamp of approval on a waiver plan that relies on a sketchy tutoring program.

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