Tutoring program could help struggling fourth- and fifth-graders: Not all school districts on board | News

School districts throughout Indiana are deliberating whether to participate in a new, statewide tutoring program for fourth- and fifth-graders most impacted academically by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Called Indiana Learns, it gives families that demonstrate both financial and academic need up to $1,000 to spend on math and reading tutoring from approved, out-of-school academic programs.

The program was approved by the Indiana Legislature through House Enrolled Act 1251, and lawyers allocated $15 million for the two-year program. They used the state’s share of federal pandemic stimulus funds — Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

“We’ve very excited to be connecting eligible families across the state with tutoring support in math and reading,” said Holly Lawson, Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman.

Indiana Learns is an Indiana Department of Education program. It has contracted with The Mind Trust — an Indianapolis-based education nonprofit — to operate the program. The Mind Trust is being paid up to $3 million to oversee the program.

Indiana DOE has budgeted $15 million for this initiative through the ESSER funds and is encouraging all qualifying families to participate.

“We anticipate that we’ll be able to serve about 15,000 students statewide with this funding. IDOE is monitoring participation to make sure that grant funds are available for all qualifying families that sign up,” Lawson said.

WFYI reported in August that about 57,000 Hoosier fourth- and fifth-graders with below grade-level math and English scores are eligible for the program.

The program at this point is in its pilot phase, Lawson said. “We are actively monitoring participation and would be elated to work with our partners to provide additional funds to make that a reality, if needed.”

how it works

To qualify, a student must meet all of the following criteria: Indiana resident; attends an Indiana school; qualifies for free/reduced lunch; and scored below proficiency in both math and English/language arts on ILEARN as a third or fourth grade student in spring 2022.

Qualifying students will receive a one-time grant of $500.

If Indiana traditional public, charter and accredited non-public schools contribute $250 in federal funds to the accounts of students in their school or corporation, the state will provide an extra $250 match, giving families a total of $1,000 in their accounts.

The Indiana Learns grants can be used on approved virtual and in-person tutoring programs. Examples of qualifying expenses include private tutoring, small group tutoring or academic-focused camps held during school breaks.

Up and running

The program is now up and running and eligible families are being notified, said Seana Murphy, senior director of Indiana Learns.

Families can find out more at indianalearns.org.

Program goals are student academic gains and stronger relationships between schools, families and community partners, Murphy said.

Through IndianaLearns.org, eligible families can access the online portal, set up an account and schedule services from the list of approved providers. Tutors bill Indiana Learns for the services, and they are paid through the digital platform; families don’t receive money directly.

Tutoring services include some statewide online providers, such as Sylvan. Others are able to provide tutoring in various languages, from Mandarin to Spanish, Murphy said.

The tutoring services, or Learning Partners, go through an application process, and an independent review committee made up of educators from around the state makes the determination, Murphy said.

As of Nov. 10, 35 schools or school corporations across the state have begun the process of matching funds for their eligible students, said Alli Vanneman, Indiana Learns marketing and engagement manager. “The list is continually growing.”

Districts providing matching funds include Indianapolis Public Schools, Muncie Community Schools and MSD of Decatur Township.

Several schools will offer tutoring directly to their eligible students, Vanneman said. Those schools do have to complete the Learning Partner application and are reviewed by the review committee.

Not all on board

Some public school educators do have reservations about the way the tutoring program is set up.

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, president of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, questions why IDOE isn’t administering Indiana Learns directly and why it has been contracted out to Mind Trust, which has established several charter schools in Indianapolis.

While charter schools are considered public schools under state law, they don’t have the same accountability requirements as traditional public schools. “We were definitely concerned about the Mind Trust being contracted,” Fuentes-Rohwer said.

She added, “I’m not sure this extra layer is efficient.”

Fuentes-Rohwer, also is a school board member with the Monroe County Community School Corp., believes it would be best if IDOE administered the programs and provided grants directly to schools that need it to supplement tutoring programs they already have in place.

Jeff Hauswald, the Monroe schools superintendent, said the district won’t participate in the program.

“MCCSC officials are quite confident that utilizing an additional $250 to expand support for individual students through existing MCCSC programs will be far more efficient and effective than contracting with a likely out-of-community provider that doesn’t know our students,” he said .

For example, MCCSC is currently partnering with Indiana University-Bloomington’s School of Education to offer a program with direct one-on-one extended and supplemental learning opportunities. In the first year, the program resulted in an increase of more than 3% in academic scores for the targeted students, he said.

“MCCSC plans to use our limited funds to support programs and teachers within our district and community. As an alternative, we encourage state leaders to provide an additional $750 per eligible student to districts directly so that they can expand the great work they are already doing ,” he said.

Lawson, IDOE spokeswoman, said that Indiana Learns team, based out of the Indiana-based education nonprofit The Mind Trust, will only be reimbursed for direct expenses related to administering the program, not to exceed $3 million.

“The Mind Trust has extensive experience managing programs that drive student learning gains, such as Indy Summer Learning Labs, making the nonprofit the perfect partner to quickly launch this program for eligible families,” Lawson stated in an email.

The contract was not subject to a bidding process.

Per Indiana Code (IC 5-22-10-9), the contract was established as a special procurement “because it required rapidly dispersing federal ESSER funds this school year,” she said. Federal law requires the funds must be fully encumbered by September 2024, so timing requirements restricted IDOE’s ability to pursue competitive procurement, Lawson said.

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