Second of two parts
Every year for nearly a decade, private tutoring companies have made millions in Florida because the federal government required school districts to hire them.
That was in danger of changing last February, when the state won freedom from mandated private instruction for poor children in the state's worst schools.
But the tutoring industry wasn't letting go without a fight.
At the end of last year's legislative session, Florida became a key target as the tutoring lobby battled to retain funding.
The effort paid off in March, when state lawmakers quietly voted to keep the money flowing.
The moment marked a major victory for the tutoring industry, but, as the Tampa Bay Times reported on Sunday, it also ensured the survival of a program that is shot through with cheating, opportunism and fraud.
In tracing the new law from the agenda books of a special interest group to the pages of state statutes, the Times reviewed public records and interviewed legislators, lobbyists, education officials and advocates.
It found that the push to fund tutoring in Florida was part of a national campaign by the industry, an undertaking that failed in other places but succeeded in Tallahassee.
To save tutoring, the industry formed a nonprofit group that sold the effort as a civil rights struggle, spent $2.4 million on campaign contributions and lobbying fees and pushed legislation in states across the country.
In New York and Maryland, tutoring companies and their lobbyists battled fiercely for a law requiring funding and still made no headway.
In Florida, all it took was a phone call.
By the summer of 2010, midway through President Barack Obama's second year in office, tutoring companies that had thrived on government contracts knew they were in trouble.
Industry groups were expecting the administration to gut requirements for private tutoring, known as supplemental educational services, that made up a key part of President George W. Bush's education reform act, No Child Left Behind.
What the industry needed was a campaign to rally people who otherwise might not show support. The solution? Defend subsidized tutoring as a civil rights cause.
Steve Pines, head of the Education Industry Association, previewed the strategy in a PowerPoint presentation for tutoring companies in June 2010. His organization, a trade group for for-profit education businesses, would spend $1.5 million to help launch a nonprofit called Tutor Our Children.
The new organization would hire lobbyists, create a pro-tutoring website and encourage parents to flood public officials with support for mandated tutoring, all while positioning the campaign as a fight for civil rights.
It cultivated ties to the Urban League of Greater Miami and the United Farm Workers of America. In April 2011, it organized a panel discussion in Washington called "Waiving Away Education Civil Rights."
In October 2011, Tutor Our Children announced it had hired a spokeswoman, Stephanie Monroe, a Washington lobbyist who formerly served as assistant secretary of education for civil rights in the Bush administration.
About a week later, Monroe testified in a Senate hearing on the organization's behalf.
The same day, the group posted on its website a photo of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. It showed an inscription — a quote from King — that reads in part: "Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights."