U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings last week called on the nation’s Roman Catholic schools to become active in providing tutoring to public school students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
“The president and I hope you will consider becoming providers of supplemental educational services,” Ms. Spellings told the annual congressional-advocacy session of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, held in Washington on Feb. 28. “Thousands of students in our communities could benefit from the knowledge and skill of your teachers.”
Under the law, public schools that fail to meet improvement goals for two consecutive years must provide transportation for students to transfer to another public school if they wish. After a third year of failing to make adequate yearly progress, districts must offer the opportunity for free after-school tutoring.
Federal funding pays for the tutoring, which is being performed by a wide variety of state-approved organizations, including private tutoring companies and some religiously based groups.
Secretary Spellings said providing tutoring “can also help students not on your everyday attendance lists.”
Two Catholic school systems, run by the Diocese of Memphis and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, were approved to provide tutoring at the start of this school year. But neither currently is tutoring any students.
The Diocese of Memphis hasn’t started its program yet. And the seven participating Catholic schools in Philadelphia didn’t attract enough eligible students to make it worthwhile to carry out the program, said Bill Tangradi, an archdiocese official.
Ms. Spellings noted that her eldest daughter attends a Catholic high school, while her youngest daughter attends a public middle school. “In both cases, I made decisions to best serve the individual needs of my daughters,” she said. “School choice is more than just a catchphrase in my family; it is a way of life.”
The secretary called attention to the federal program that provides students from low-income families in the District of Columbia with vouchers worth up to $7,500 to attend private schools of their choice. Six hundred of the approximately 1,000 students who are in the program are using the vouchers to attend Catholic schools, she said.
Ms. Spellings pointed out that President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget would provide $50 million for a new Choice Incentive Fund, which, she said, would help districts develop school choice programs similar to the one in the nation’s capital.
Maria A. Powell, an education official for the Catholic bishops’ conference, said she was pleased to have an education secretary with close knowledge of Catholic education.
“As a consumer, she has firsthand experience,” Ms. Powell said. “That’s always valuable.”
Assistant Editor Mary Ann Zehr contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as Spellings to Catholic Schools: Expand Tutoring