The landmark federal education law passed in 2001, known as the Leave No Child Behind Act, requires, among other things, that schools spend at least 5 percent of the federal grants on tutoring students in low-performing schools - more if demand warrants.
But if the money's not spent on tutoring, it can be used for other purposes.
To date, interest in, and compliance with the new law, have been spotty. Enrollment in tutoring classes has been low.
One survey in New York City showed "well under 10,000" of 240,000 eligible students had applied as of late last week. Some private tutoring firms have had to drop out of the competition to offer services to schools.
Only about a dozen states have come up with lists of approved tutoring programs. Moreover, there are disputes over just who can do the tutoring. Montana, for instance, insists that tutors be certified teachers.
Tutoring firms are upset that they can't compete fairly in this new market. Some say they weren't able to visit schools and show their wares.
And some school districts have pushed their own tutoring programs instead. Indeed, New York City has created two tutoring enterprises of its own to compete with outside entities.
In some instances, lack of interest in tutoring may be simply due to a public relations failure to communicate the features of the new law. Granted, this complex $26 billion federal initiative will need more time to implement. But school districts, which can often be heavily influenced by public teachers' unions, don't need to drag their feet when it comes to getting outside tutors involved.
Public school administrators should be objective in judging which tutoring programs offer the best service for the money available. A mix of private and public teaching for disadvantaged students might provide some healthy competition.
The idea behind offering tutors in the first place had much to do with improving students' overall academic performance. It should not be held up in a bureaucratic bin simply because schools want to keep the money to themselves.
Congress may want to fix this portion of the federal act to make sure these tutoring programs serve the children they were meant to.