By Tina Kelley

A vaunted statewide tutoring program for third and fourth graders has been delayed significantly, with tutoring that was supposed to begin almost three weeks ago likely not starting until next year in some districts, according to several superintendents.

The N.J. Department of Education issued guidance on Oct. 20 — more than a week after the program was to begin — that some of the 343 districts that applied for state funding would have to collect bids from tutoring providers to do the work.

The competitive bid process requires districts to gain local school board approval, publicize their needs, advertise for 20 days and choose tutoring firms. In addition, tutoring firms will need time to hire and train additional tutors to handle students and run security checks.

The grant application instructed districts to “follow local policies and procedures for contracting with vendors as well as the Public School Contracts Laws.”

But educators and advocates say because the state had also distributed a list of approved tutoring firms and communicated unclearly about the rules, many districts remain confused about what to do.

“This is a bureaucratic problem, and they’re putting it on the backs of children,” said Paula White, executive director of JerseyCAN, a schools advocacy group. “It’s really going to be a lost opportunity for children in the state of New Jersey that need this service the most.” She called the delays “potentially devastating.”

Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said the need to seek bids most affects districts receiving large amounts of money.
“There certainly was a misperception that the approval of the vendors by the state would permit districts to contract directly with them,” he said, adding that he felt “consternation and disappointment that the tutoring will not begin until basically the second half of the school year for many districts.”

At Tuesday’s gathering of the New Jersey School Boards Association, Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan acknowledged concerns about the program.

“We thank you for your patience and know that we are working to advance this as quickly as possible,” she said.

In February, Gov. Phil Murphy introduced the $52 million high-impact tutoring effort as a “critical initiative,” noting that addressing learning loss from the pandemic “remains a top priority.” He said the small-group tutoring, which has yielded impressive results elsewhere, would occur at least twice weekly for a nine- or 10-week period.


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