EDITORIAL: Another day, another case of lax state oversight

A poorly designed, dismally managed and federally financed tutoring program for struggling students is so broken that most states have dropped it. Not California.

California is one of five states that has not been able to obtain federal waivers to eliminate ineffective tutoring programs that school districts and state education officials concede are not working.

As The Sacramento Bee's Melody Gutierrez reported last week, some 300 mostly for-profit tutoring companies operate in California. State education officials say they don't have the resources to do day-to-day oversight of these companies, so they rely on local school districts instead.

And school districts say they lack authority to remove programs that are ineffective. They can only disqualify those that fail to fill out paperwork correctly or meet the terms of their contracts. Even more baffling -- and, frankly infuriating -- federal law bars school districts from offering advice to parents about which programs are effective or from setting up their own programs staffed with their district's own certified teachers.

Under the federal "No Child Left Behind" law, California is required to offer tutorial services in school districts with large numbers of failing students. But the Obama administration has waived that requirement if states put a teacher evaluation process in place tied to student test scores. California has been unwilling to do so, and the federal government has been unwilling to budge. So the state remains stuck with an expensive, ineffective tutoring program, and taxpayers, school districts, parents -- and worst of all -- students pay the price.

The fault lies, in part, with the federal government for failing to grant California its requested waiver.

But mostly, the fault lies with the state's education bureaucrats for failure to provide effective oversight. Rampant waste, fraud and abuse in the state's school tutoring programs -- like the rampant waste, fraud and abuse in the state's alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs reported last week by news organizations -- raise fundamental questions about government in California.

In both cases, scam artists have been able to waltz into California and bilk the state and taxpayers of billions of dollars. And state officials paid to protect the public's interest seem unwilling or incapable of doing so. So while bad law and nonsensical rules play a role, the bigger issue here seems to be dysfunction in state government. That's an issue only the governor and the Legislature can address, and they need to.