The Challenges of Supplemental Educational Services

By Del Stover and Lawrence Hardy

When the Mandaree, N.D., school system was forced to offer free private tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act, parents eagerly signed up their children. But disillusionment quickly set in: The closest state-approved provider of “supplemental educational services” was 160 miles away.

Not surprisingly, with students forced to make an exhausting, five- to six-hour round-trip from their remote Indian reservation school to the state capital, parents soon pulled their bleary-eyed children out of the program. The first attempt at NCLB-mandated tutoring ended in failure.

“It was too far for them,” admits Mandaree school official Connie White Bear. “It was too much travel. Students didn’t want to do that.”

School officials have since partnered with a local community group to provide tutoring closer to home, but Mandaree’s experience underscores a hard truth about this federal mandate: Successfully implementing supplemental educational services, or SES, is challenging -- and local officials play an essential role in deciding whether students receive the quality tutoring they are entitled to under the law.

“The burden has been put on us,” says Margaret Lofton, a school board member in Polk County, Fla., who has lingering questions about whether students get full value on the more than 2 million in district Title I funds diverted each year to the federal tutoring program. “It’s absolutely our responsibility to see that this money is spent wisely and as efficiently as possible.”

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