More than a year after its fight became public, Dallas ISD is still struggling to cut ties with unscrupulous tutoring companies it's required to contract with under federal law.
A report set to be delivered Thursday to the board of trustees details the Texas Education Agency's findings against two firms, Wise Links and A+ Tutors for Scholars, that were found to be exploiting their contracts with DISD.
The first, Wise Links, should come as no surprise. The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this year that it was being investigated by the Texas Education Agency and that it had ties to two companies booted from the state-approved list of tutoring providers earlier this year.
The company's racket was straightforward, according to the DISD report. It would simply bill DISD for tutoring that never occurred. This marked the second time the company was found to have a "substantiated violation of a system nature." It was kicked off the state list on May 29.
The findings against the second company, A+ Tutors for Scholars, are more ambiguous. DISD alleged that the company was harvesting data about students at Skyline High School, Comstock Middle School and Lang Middle School so it could enroll them in online tutoring without a parent's permission. It also placed ads in the Morning News and on Monster.com offering to pay students to recruit their classmates.
"Now hiring responsible and energetic H.S. Students to recruit fellow students into FREE tutoring program with laptop provided," one read. "Call 214-702-6761 to see if you attend an eligible school."
Offering students payment for enrolling in tutoring is prohibited under TEA rules.
A+ denied DISD's allegations, and the TEA found "insufficient evidence" to determine whether the company had been illegally collecting student data. It also found "insufficient evidence to show that a high school student were (sic) hired or compensated," the agency's findings read. "There is evidence, by the advertisement, that the provider made the 'offer' to compensate or employ high school students."
A+ escaped censure from the TEA, though the company did end its contract with DISD in April.
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Such cases are nothing new, but they highlight the continuing burden of the No Child Left Behind law's well-intentioned but ineffective and poorly implemented requirement that schools contract with private companies to provide tutoring.
The industry that has sprung up to cash in on the requirement is largely unregulated in Texas, even though it bills the state's school districts an average of $40 million per year and charges as much as $120 per hour per student, according to a Morning News report from last year.
DISD has repeatedly tried to find a way out from under the requirement. Then-interim Superintendent Alan King at one point asked the state for permission to cancel its tutoring contracts, using the $12 million in savings to hire 166 new teachers, but the TEA refused.
The agency has since decided to apply to the federal Department of Education for a waiver from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind, including the tutoring requirement. Until that's approved, DISD will have to take on the tutors one by one.