Involved in the talks were representatives of Hillsborough County schools and other large districts, the education department, the state superintendents association and the tutoring industry.
Then-Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson took part in at least one conversation. Robinson was adamant in the discussions that subsidized tutoring be funded, participants recalled.
The Times reached Robinson, who resigned in August amid a standardized testing controversy, but he declined to talk about his support for mandated tutoring. Instead he pointed to previous statements in favor of the program.
In the end, state Sen. Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee who heads the state superintendents association, amended the bill to require money for tutoring companies — but not as much as the companies had gotten in the past.
"You have to deal with the hand you're dealt, and you try to make it the best for the children of Florida," Montford told the Times. "In a perfect world, we would hope that the school districts and the superintendents would have all of the control over the money, but that was not going to happen in this particular case."
Things happened too quickly for the measure to face much public debate.
"That is unconscionable as far as I'm concerned," said Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who opposed the late amendment but was powerless to stop it. "Any time something is added at the last minute, you don't get a full airing of it. And certainly it's open to questioning why it was added at the last minute when we were going over that bill for six to eight weeks."
Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill in April.
It ultimately meant more than $50 million set aside for subsidized tutoring this school year — money that many local educators say could be better spent elsewhere.
"I think it's a real shame," said Peggy Hildebrand, whose office oversees tutoring contracts for Volusia County schools. "Some people have become very wealthy, for a program that shows very little for success. It's heartbreaking."
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.