When Does a School Have to Pay for Tutoring?

Female teacher assisting girl (3-5) in classroom, smiling
Female teacher assisting girl. Rebecca Emery/Digital Vision/Getty Images

A tutor can be a helpful service for many students but tutor services often are expensive. Free private tutors are not generally provided by public schools for children who have disabilities. But there are ways you can take advantage of this service if your child's school has fallen behind benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act. Learn about your options.

Free Tutors Not Covered for Section 504 Plans

IDEA is an education law that requires public schools to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities who qualify in one of the specific categories detailed in the law. This law is geared towards providing the least-restrictive learning environment, alongside other children rather than separated into a special class. Section 504 is a civil rights law intended to prevent discrimination by institutions such as public schools, libraries, universities, and colleges. Under Section 504, a child with a disability receives an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) outlining the programs, education settings, and accommodations the child will receive. These plans are reviewed each year and parents have input as part of the education team.

Unfortunately, school districts are not required to pay for a tutor for a child with a Section 504 plan for special education under No Child Left Behind.

Even though a 504 plan entitles students to reasonable accommodations, under Section 504 school districts will typically not voluntarily pay for private services of any type unless they are not capable of providing appropriate services using their own personnel. Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools do not receive additional funding to pay for Section 504 services.

However, there may be programs already available in a child's school district. It's worth asking the school to assist with the cost of a private tutor, but it's unlikely a district would comply with such a request. Schools will often provide a list of the tutors available in the area if you request it.

Supplemental Education Services Under No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act may offer another possibility for families seeking free tutoring services. If a child from a low-income family attends a Title I school which as been designated as in need of improvement for more than one year, "supplemental education services" can be provided.  This can mean any form of free extra academic help, including tutoring or remedial help in reading, language arts, math and other subjects. Such help may be offered before or after school and in settings such as tutoring companies, community groups, and colleges. Your family likely falls into the low-income category if your child qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch.

Special Education Programs

Another option for a child having significant learning problems despite a 504 plan could be a special education program. In special education programs, schools provide specially-designed instruction for each child.

While it may not necessarily be a private tutor, the school would be required to address every child's needs.