School districts across Indiana are considering participating in a new, statewide tutoring program for fourth and fifth graders who have been hardest hit academically by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the Indiana Learns name, families who demonstrate both financial and academic needs will receive up to $1,000 to spend on math and reading tutoring from approved after-school academic programs.
The program was authorized by the Indiana Legislature through House Enrolled Act 1251, and the legislature allocated $15 million for the two-year program. They used the state’s share of the federal pandemic stimulus fund — emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools.
“We’re thrilled to be bringing together eligible families across the state with tutoring in math and reading,” said Holly Lawson, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education.
Indiana Learns is a program of the Indiana Department of Education. It has contracted with The Mind Trust — an Indianapolis-based non-profit educational organization — to operate the program. The Mind Trust will receive up to $3 million to oversee the program.
The Indiana DOE has budgeted $15 million for this initiative through ESSER funding and encourages all qualified families to participate.
“We expect this funding to support about 15,000 students nationwide. IDOE monitors participation to ensure that grant funding is available to all qualifying families who enroll,” Lawson said.
WFYI reported in August that about 57,000 Hoosier fourth and fifth graders with below-average math and English scores are eligible for the program.
The program is currently in the pilot phase, Lawson said. “We are actively monitoring participation and would be happy to work with our partners to provide additional funding, if needed, to make this a reality.”
How it works
To qualify, a student must meet all of the following criteria: an Indiana resident; attended school in Indiana; eligible for free/discounted lunch; and underperformed in Mathematics and English/Language Arts on ILERN in Spring 2022 as a third or fourth grader.
Qualifying students receive a one-time $500 stipend.
When traditional Indiana public, charter, and accredited non-public schools deposit $250 in federal funds into the accounts of students at their school or business, the state provides an additional $250, saving families overall Received $1,000 in their accounts.
The Indiana Learns Scholarships can be used for approved virtual and in-person tutoring programs. Examples of qualifying expenses include private tuition, small group tuition, or academic camps held during school vacations.
The program is now operational and eligible families are being notified, said Indiana Learns senior director Seana Murphy.
Families can learn more at indianalearns.org.
The goals of the program are academic gains for students and stronger relationships between schools, families and community partners, Murphy said.
Through IndianaLearns.org, eligible families can access the online portal, create an account, and schedule services from the Approved Provider List. Tutors bill Indiana Learns for the services and they are paid through the digital platform. Families do not receive any money directly.
Tutoring services include some nationwide online providers such as Sylvan. Others are able to offer tutoring in a variety of languages, from Mandarin to Spanish, Murphy said.
The tutoring services, or learning partners, go through an application process, and an independent review board made up of educators from across the state makes the decision, Murphy said.
As of Nov. 10, 35 schools or school associations across the state have begun pooling funds for their eligible students, said Alli Vanneman, marketing and engagement manager for Indiana Learns. “The list keeps growing.”
Districts providing funding include Indianapolis Public Schools, Muncie Community Schools and MSD of Decatur Township.
A district’s matching funds must be in federal dollars; ESSER or Title I funds can be used, Vanneman said.
Several schools will offer tutoring directly to their eligible students, Vanneman said. These schools must complete the learning partner application and will be examined by the examination board.
In the province of Vigo
Among the counties considering providing the equivalent $250 with their ESSER funds is Vigo County School Corp., which provided information to its school board on Nov. 14.
The board could take action at its December meeting.
“We have 469 students who would qualify,” said VCSC Assistant Superintendent Karen Goeller. If each student used the program and all the tutoring hours, the cost would be $117,250 from the district’s ESSER funds.
The district has approached several larger districts across the state that are providing funding, including Indianapolis Public Schools, Muncie, Penn-Harris-Madison, and Fort Wayne.
VCSC already has its own in-person after school tutoring program in English/Language Arts and Maths offered February through April and is providing transportation from its own ESSER funds.
The Indiana Learns program would be a second option for tutoring programs for identified students, likely with virtual tutoring providers, Goeller said.
VCSC does not intend to become one of Indiana Learns’ approved tutoring providers, Goeller said.
“We already have a successful, large-scale tutoring program for students of all grades,” said Goeller. “The District is still considering supporting the Indiana Learns program with our ESSER dollars so that our students with the greatest needs can receive a second dose of tutoring if families so desire.”
Tonya Pfaff, a Vigo County high school math teacher and Democratic state representative, said of the state program, “As a teacher, I can attest that the COVID delay among students is real and ongoing. The students are behind and we should do everything we can to help them as soon as possible. The longer a student is behind, the more they lose motivation in school,” she said.
Indiana Learns has very specific requirements and goals. “Hopefully, as long as the tutors are communicating with the students’ teachers, those fourth and fifth graders will be able to catch up and move on,” Pfaff said.
Not all districts on board
Some public school educators have reservations about the way the tutoring program is structured.
Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, president of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, asks why IDOE doesn’t directly manage Indiana Learns and why it was awarded to Mind Trust, which has founded several charter schools in Indianapolis.
While charter schools are considered public schools under state law, they do not have the same accountability responsibilities as traditional public schools. “We were definitely concerned about the Mind Trust getting signed,” Fuentes-Rohwer said.
She added, “I’m not sure this extra layer is efficient.”
Fuentes-Rohwer, also a school board member for Monroe County Community School Corp., believes that it would be best if IDOE managed the programs and provided direct grants to schools that need them to supplement tutoring programs already in place.
Jeff Hauswald, the Monroe school principal, said the district will not participate in the program.
“MCCSC officials are fairly confident that using 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 outside provider who doesn’t know our students “, he said .
For example, MCCSC is currently working with Indiana University-Bloomington’s School of Education to offer a program of expanded and complementary direct one-to-one teaching opportunities. In the first year, the program resulted in a more than 3% increase in academic scores for the target students, he said.
“MCCSC plans to use our limited funds to support programs and teachers in our district and community. As an alternative, we encourage state leaders to provide an additional $750 per eligible student directly to districts so they can build on the great work they are already doing,” he said.
Lawson, IDOE spokeswoman, said the Indiana Learns team, which is hosted by Indiana-based educational nonprofit The Mind Trust, is only reimbursed for direct expenses related to administering the program, which does not exceed $3 million may exceed.
“The Mind Trust has extensive experience administering programs that enhance student learning such as B. Indy Summer Learning Labs, which makes the nonprofit the perfect partner to quickly launch this program for eligible families,” Lawson explained in an email.
The order was not the subject of a bidding process.
According to the Indiana Code (IC 5-22-10-9), the contract was entered as a special procurement “because this school year required a quick distribution of ESSER federal funds,” she said. Federal law requires funds to be fully encumbered by September 2024, so the timing requirements limited IDOE’s ability to pursue competitive sourcing, Lawson said.