States

Is Tutoring at Risk? States Stretch to Keep Funding in Place

By Olina Banerji — April 08, 2024 6 min read
Vector illustration tutoring concept of online learning with teacher and students.
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When Muriel Bowser, the mayor of the District of Columbia, announced in early March that her administration had carved out $4.8 million for “high impact tutoring” in its 2024-25 budget, she was met with thunderous applause.

Bowser had made the announcement to a room packed with administrators, tutoring service providers and policy analysts. But the excitement was tempered somewhat by questions about how far these funds would go: Is this appropriation enough? What about tutoring in the next year?

As the federal stimulus package—ESSER—winds down, states are racing against the clock to find other sustainable funding sources to keep tutoring alive in their schools. So far, states have taken a patchwork approach. Some states are creating policies that would embed tutoring as a service; other states have relied on one-time grants.

In the long run, states need to make tutoring a part of their annual funding for schools, said Nakia Towns, the chief operating officer at Accelerate, a national nonprofit that supports the implementation of tutoring across the country. High-impact tutoring needs to be a budget line item, she said.

“Just like states allocate resources to employ teachers, psychologists, or services for students with special needs, they need to be intentional about [funds for] better student outcomes,” said Towns. “States now know that it’s not double blocking [classes] or summer learning, or any other interventions, but high-impact tutoring that’s consistently led to learning recovery.”

That’s why Louisiana’s one-two punch to secure tutoring budgets offers a potential model to follow. The Louisiana state board of education’s 2024-25 funding plan would allocate $30 million towards tutoring support for math and reading. The funding is part of a larger package of $71 million that would go towards employee pay, among other spending priorities.

“Our state board unanimously recommended to our legislature that $30 million should be appropriated every year for high-dosage tutoring in our elementary schools,” said Cade Brumley, the state’s superintendent for education.

Louisiana’s schools used a few different approaches to tutoring—in-school, after-school, and summer programming—to lift math and reading scores after the pandemic. These efforts have worked, according to a nationwide analysis of student test scores: Louisiana is one of only four states where student outcomes met or exceeded pre-pandemic levels of achievement in 2023. Brumley credits the state’s efforts in tutoring for these gains.

The funding proposal is backstopped by a bill introduced by Louisiana Sen. Patrick McMath in January 2024, which would require tutoring for elementary school students who aren’t proficient in reading or math. “Should this bill pass, it’s going to need a funding source,” added Brumley.

Like Brumley, Bowser too emphasized continued support for intensive tutoring in the District’s schools—in addition to the $4.8 million, the per student funding formula has been increased by 12 percent for the next school year. It’s unclear though, if this is a one-time allocation, or something that’s renewable annually—a spokesperson wouldn’t discuss future budget plans.

“We do acknowledge that this bucket of funds isn’t going to be enough. This is one of a variety of fund sources that schools will have to leverage for tutoring.” said Sarah Martin, senior advisor for learning recovery at the office of the state superintendent of education in the District.

Getting to the right price

According to a few different estimates, the average cost of tutoring per student falls between $1,000-2,000, covering essentials like tutors’ time, study materials, or technology to get students online. It’s hard to imagine that it can get much cheaper than that without comprising the quality of the instruction, said Liz Cohen, policy director at FutureEd, an education think-tank at Georgetown University.

In a report, Cohen concluded that the most impactful tutoring support is of a specific type—in small groups, frequency, during the school day, and preferably with the same tutor.

New Jersey was one of the first states to include high-impact tutoring in its state’s budgets, Cohen said, but the $1.5 million allocation was only meant to last a year. Ohio made a $26 million grant to six tutoring providers from its federal stimulus dollars in 2023, but that too was a one-time allocation. “I do think Louisiana is the first state to put a stake in the ground, as part of its budget, for that amount of money,” said Cohen.

How did Louisiana land on that number?

Brumley did not share how much tutoring costs per student, but said that the $30 million was calculated based on how many students are still performing behind grade level. It’s “in the same vein” as the $116 million federal stimulus dollars that the state spent on tutoring over the last three years.

Louisiana will roll out the cash in the form of block grants to local school systems, and will issue guideance on how school systems can spend them.

To encourage schools, Brumley’s office has created a state- and nation-wide list of tutoring vendors to choose from, which includes online options for schools that don’t have enough in-person staff to cover their needs.

OSSE, in the District of Columbia, is working on a guide that will help its school systems identify different funding sources. As an example, Martin points to the use of Title I funds to continue tutoring in high-needs schools. Previously, the city disbursed its tutoring funds via competitive grants to providers.

OSSE hasn’t yet decided how the new $4.8 million additional funding will be disbursed, said Martin, but the city thinks it should be intended for students most in need. The Mayor’s office is urging schools to make use of the last of their ESSER funding. Schools are allowed to extend the use of their federal stimulus, provided that they park them in vendor contracts by the end of summer.

Making a case for the money

Before schools leverage more funds, they need to figure out how tutoring has benefitted them.

“I tell districts that it’s important to get the receipts if they have spent money on tutoring. Figure out how to evaluate your data to make your case [for future funding],” said Cohen.

Not all schools will follow the same design and implementation, which means their monetary needs might differ. A school that uses its own teachers to tutor, for instance, may not need to contract a vendor.

In the District, consistent tutoring has impacted attendance scores positively, especially with the chronically absent population. Martin also pointed to a tutor-to-teacher pipeline that’s sprung up because of the training that tutoring providers gave to first-time tutors.

“Tutoring works best when it’s paired with great instruction in class. So we’re also going to focus on that,” Martin said.

Brumley, in Louisiana, wants to use tutoring funds towards two types of intervention—in school and after-school, the latter through a voucher program. The state provides $1,000 to families to spend on additional support for their kids. Families can choose from a list of state-approved tutoring providers. If in-school tutoring has worked for Louisiana’s schools, its after-school voucher program has seen less enthusiastic participation, something Brumley said he hopes to fix through better marketing.

The first step is to develop a “tutoring industry” for quality tutors, which includes online options for families. “We’ve set a high bar for tutors. They must be trained in the science of reading or a reading program we approve of,” Brumley added. “This is a huge lift to do both in school and provide at-home options. But we want to make sure that all kids who need the tutoring, can access it.”

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