AUSTIN (KXAN) - Last week, a waiver secured by the Texas Education Agency loosened the federal grip on low-performing school districts.
They no longer have to set aside a chunk of their federal dollars to pay private tutoring companies to help low-income students.
It is a huge relief for districts that have spent time and resources filing more than 75 complaints against the companies parents had to hire because they were on a vendor list provided by the state.
A KXAN-Texas Tribune Partnership Report
Since 2007, Texas school districts have paid private tutoring companies more than $180 million.
Records from the TEA show districts not only questioned the benefit, but also caught the companies flat out lying.
In some cases, tutors had no background checks done, companies paid students to recruit their friends into programs and vendors billed districts thousands of dollars without tutoring kids.
"What they did receive were gimmicks like a free iPad, and in exchange, to sign a form saying they're enrolled in services," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.
Last legislative session, Villarreal authored a bill to crack down on the questionable companies. Now, the state must remove bad ones from the list, and fill parents in on their track record.
"I put a lot of blame on a system that really put handcuffs on our school districts," said Rep. Villarreal.
While no Central Texas districts filed complaints, the Austin Independent School District had one of the companies currently on probation on its list of vendors.
"We monitored it very closely," said Nancy Phillips, who oversees the program for Austin ISD.
She said the district never had any problems, but is pleased they no longer have to use outside companies.
"We have no control as to what actually occurs in the tutoring under the federal guidelines," said Phillips. "It's part of a requirement and you smile and you do the requirement, and now I'm happy we have the waiver."
After repeatedly claiming it had no authority to intervene, the TEA started investigating and removed a handful of tutoring companies from the list.
- Click here for a list of tutoring companies TEA has removed from the vendor list
- Watch the Education Nation Summit
KXAN media partner The Texas Tribune will be filing a series of reports on this issue in the coming days.
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