A program designed to help District 65 students recover from COVID-related learning loss has been reduced because the federal money which paid for tutors is no longer available.

That means hundreds of students who had been getting the extra assistance will no longer receive it.

In a recent report to the school board, Lee Hart, the district’s manager of extended learning, said, “We will continue to serve as many qualified students as possible with a reduced budget level.”

District 65 spokesperson Hannah Hoffmeister tells Evanston Now that in the last school year D65 had 42 federally-funded tutors for what the district calls Academic Skills Centers.

But for this school year, the K-8 district will only be able to afford 25 tutors, using $500,000 in local, not federal, funds. That translates to fewer students getting extra academic help.

The expectation is that between 1,000 and 1,100 D65 students will receive ASC tutoring in 2023-24. Last year, the total was 1,900 (including about 200 who participated twice).

The federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund program provided billions of dollars to school systems nationwide during the pandemic, to help pay for COVID-related items such as personal protective equipment, upgraded HVAC systems, and tutors.

District 65 received $10.7 million, but the time frame for using those funds has now ended. (A D65 report indicates that about $2.5 million of the $10.7 has been used for “Supplemental Tutoring/Academic Support” since 2020).

District 65 will still have at least one ASC tutor per building this year, Hoffmeister says, with 10 buildings having two.

The two-tutor buildings have at least 150 ASC-eligible students (based on academic performance), and also have a sizeable low-income population.

“We prioritized equity in making these decisions,” Hoffmeister says, “and look forward to serving a large number of students this year.”

Ironically, while the federal funding has run out, and D65 has only been able to make up some of the difference, the need for post-COVID tutoring is still quite significant.

The director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Robin Lake, recently called in a report for “a large-scale tutoring army” in each state, to fight learning loss from the pandemic.

“We are failing the Covid generation,” the report, The State of the American Student, says. “It’s time to adjust course.”

The center concludes that across the country, “Tutoring is proving to be a massive — and obvious — missed opportunity.”

So, in that sense, even with a reduced program, District 65 seems to be ahead of the tutoring curve.

ASCs have been credited with improving student test scores for about two-thirds of participating youngsters.

“It’s working,” said school board member Biz Linday-Ryan earlier this summer. “It’s not perfect, but it’s working.”

One problem D65 has faced since the start of ASCs is finding enough tutors, and the pay rate may be the reason.

The district’s job board has postings for four ASC tutors. The part-time job pays $20 for those who have education certificates, and $19 for those who do not.

Still, despite staffing challenges, a smaller budget, and not being able to help as many children, the ASC program has survived, even if it’s been downsized.

“The research-informed model that we use has been shown to be an effective system for students to receive high-impact tutoring during the school day,” Hoffmeister says.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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