BUSH INITIATIVE COULD LEAVE MANY CHILDREN BEHIND

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When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind law in January, parents and teachers across New York City got some good news: Students in the lowest-performing schools will get extra help on math and reading from a range of expert tutoring programs.

But with only two weeks left for parents to sign their children up for the free services, a delayed and haphazard registration process has left many families without enough time to identify and enroll their kids in a program that suits their needs.

Many school districts sent parents the list of tutors only two weeks ago. In the Bronx’s District 9, where parents have a choice of 19 tutoring services, the first orientation was held last week, a full week after orientations were supposed to end, based on the city Department of Education’s timeline.

“That’s going to be a lot of work, and two weeks is not going to be enough,” said Josefina Davila of Highbridge, who is scrambling to pick the right programs for each of her four children by the November 15 deadline.

Even if her children do get in, they may not get much for their trouble. The funding available under the law may only be enough to give each student a few hours of tutoring for the year.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that each community school district invest five percent of its federal Title I funds–allocated to the city’s poorest and lowest-performing schools–toward after-school tutoring services.

The district must put another 10 percent of its Title I money either into additional supplemental education services, or toward transportation for children who choose to go to a higher-ranked school outside of their district. The law allows parents to transfer their children out of low-performing schools, but very few families have been able to take advantage of this option because there aren’t enough seats open in the better schools, according to a recent Daily News report.

That leaves the extra tutoring as the best way for this new law to make a difference. But the program’s budget is not expected to amount to much help at all. This year, the city Department of Education received a total of about $612 million in Title I funds. If all of the 300,000 students who qualify for the No Child Left Behind program take advantage of the tutoring, that would amount to between $100 and $300 per student for the year.

The rates that each tutoring center plans to charge for the services range widely, from about $7 an hour up to $1,300 an hour. Although not every district has yet annouced the formula it will use to reimburse the tutoring programs, some providers are already fairly certain that the federal funds will not be sufficient to cover their costs. They hope to find other sources of funding to be able to continue the tutoring for the full year. “The first 15 sessions will be covered, and the rest, we will provide free sessions for the rest of the year,” says Alice Vogt, the director of the reading lab at Interfaith Neighbors on the Upper East Side.

The districts admit not every child will be served. “If there are more applications than spots, one option is to increase the amount of money through other funding sources, and the other option is to rank children in the order of greatest need,” said Melvin Thompson of District 9.

Still, given the registration delays,the district may not have to turn many children away. Davila hopes her children get a chance to improve. “I am trying to take advantage of it,” she said, “because my children need it.”