Breaking the Circle of Poverty: Subsidized Tutoring for Low-Income Students

PRE-PROPOSAL 1. Media Artifact

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

My media artifact: Poverty in Michigan


2. Persona and POV statement Persona:

Persona name: Jake Qualter

Age: 10

School/occupation: 4th grade, elementary school

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Quote: "My mom works really hard to make sure I have a successful life, and I'm going to do her proud!"  


  • Has a learning disability which makes it difficult for him to pay attention during class

  • Lives below the poverty line with his single mother in a two-bedroom apartment

  • Has a good relationship with his family, visits his father every couple of weeks


  • Become a doctor so he can help people

  • Get better grades in school and learn to better pay attention in class

  • Get personalized help with his schoolwork, as the classroom setting is not the best learning environment for him


POV Statement:

  • User: Jake, a motivated but struggling elementary school student . . .

  • Need: . . . needs to be able to afford an alternative educational approach . . .

  • Insight:  . . . because he has trouble paying attention in a classroom setting because of his learning disability, but knows that he learns much better when he is being taught to directly.



3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: Having teachers tutor lower-income students every week 1:1, granting lower-income students an educational leg up similar to higher-income students who can afford tutoring.

SOLUTION 2: Having lower-income and higher-income students tutor lower-income students every week 1:2, which would be a lower-cost alternative to solution 1 and would additionally help high-performing, lower-income tutors attend college.

SOLUTION 3: Make “school of choice” policies mandatory across Michigan. “School of choice” policies currently allow school districts to decide if they will accept students from outside of their geographic boundaries, but making it mandatory would increase parental opportunity to place their children in schools they feel will best help them excel.



Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

While we could not find any bills directly relating to subsidizing tutoring of students, this bill looks at the rating systems used to evaluate teachers. We can use this rating system to help us rate our tutors and assign scholarships. Examples from the bill include a rating system 50% based on student growth on state assessments, and an objective for removing teachers who are ineffective, which we can do for our tutors.


Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

When middle-class or upper-class students struggle in Michigan struggle with academics, it’s very often possible for their parents to get them tutors in certain subjects, especially as the college application process and education in general becomes more competitive. However, lower-income students in Michigan, and disproportionately those of minority backgrounds, don’t have that luxury. When students fall behind in foundational subjects where concepts build on each other, like math and reading, this can lead to a cycle of poorer students getting lesser grades, having higher dropout rates, and having a lower rate of college attendance. Primarily, this is the group that our proposal will be benefiting. Several studies, including one from the University of Chicago, has demonstrated that one-on-one tutoring of low-income students by tutors with just 100 hours of training can lead to an increase of nearly one full letter grade in math scores throughout the course of a year. Without these resources, it’s very possible for these students to remain several grade levels behind national averages, thus hindering their potential as a result of their condition in poverty. Primarily, this proposal will benefit schools both struggling schools and low-income students in Detroit, as well as some rural areas across Michigan. By making these tutors free for low-income students, it will truly level the unequal educational playing field that exists today.


How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

To learn about the issues underlying our proposal we examined many sources, including research studies, current operating tutoring programs, and individuals with first-hand experience. There has been lots of research on this topic including studies focused specifically on lower-income students and how effective one-on-one tutoring was at allowing them to either attain grade level proficiency in a specific subject, or increase their grade in a particular subject. These included academic studies from Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Portland State University, all of which demonstrated relative success rates of various tutoring programs in their ability to increase low income students’ grades. Additionally, we examined several non-profit tutoring programs including Elevate Tutoring, which focus specifically on tutoring underprivileged children in the Bay Area and learned about their program structure and success through speaking with directors of their program directly. Furthermore, a large majority of our comments and posts on the MSC website were in both the Education and Poverty & Income Inequity groups as we believed in spending a lot of time listening to students comments and reading interested articles that had been posted would provide us with a helpful framework to examine the multifaceted issue of educational outcomes effects on poverty. Lastly, we spoke to people about their experiences. We interviewed someone with first-hand experience, Anthony Hawk, the Executive Director for the mathematics department at Detroit Public Schools. We learned from his unique perspective about the subjects he sees students struggle the most with and the places that he thinks tutoring could help. Finally, we spoke with some peers who are first generation college students. Some of them came from lower-income backgrounds who were actually lucky enough to experience a tutoring program in high school provided through a local Detroit charity. They attributed this tutoring heavily to their own academic success as they explained how it “kept them on track and helped them learn things at their own pace”. Overall, we learned from a wide variety of sources and really enjoyed the opportunity to gain a vast array of perspectives to take on this challenging issue.


How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

For our service activity, we volunteered at the Robert Delonis homeless center (we both volunteered together). Through this, we had the opportunity to speak to many administrators and homeless people. A common thread, mostly reiterated to me through administrators as policy, states we are not supposed to get personal with the homeless people; therefore, we were not able to get as good of information as we would have liked with the homeless people themselves. However, we were able to get in contact with Sarah Kruszka, the operations coordinator, and get her insights on how people become homeless. We gathered that many of them were homeless due to mental illness and lack of education, and the vast majority of them were born into poverty. She confirmed our thoughts on the vicious cycle of growing up in poverty, not having the same educational opportunities, and then staying in poverty as a result. We believe that this vicious cycle we witnessed can be alleviated, at least in part, by our proposal’s increase in educational opportunities for the poor.


Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

My media artifact: Poverty in Michigan



Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Anthony Hawk is the Executive Director for the mathematics department at Detroit Public Schools. He directs the mathematics program for students in the Detroit Public Schools from K-12. We consulted him because we remembered many children struggling with mathematics throughout our school years, and we feel this may be a department with which many students could benefit from extra tutoring. This consultation gave us insights into which subjects people might most benefit from tutoring. He recommended adding extra tutoring subjects like geometry and trigonometry, as these are subjects that students struggle with most in his experience. He recommended we look into student performance in various subjects within departments and use that to help designate tutoring hours. Overall, he thought that the proposal could work and was fairly complimentary, and wished us luck.

CONSULTATION 2: Catherine Bradshaw is the Director of Programs and Operations at Elevate Tutoring. Elevate tutoring is a company that independently does something similar to our proposal: it tutors underprivileged middle school and high-school students. She really liked the idea, though she explained it would be difficult to implement due to cost. She suggested that we incorporate some student tutors into the equation; she suggested looking at highly skilled students within departments and having them tutor children as volunteers, possibly incentivizing them with scholarships. She explained how Elevate trains student tutors and gives them $5,500 scholarships after they complete enough tutoring hours.

CONSULTATION 3: Debra Bruno is a freelance writer for Politico who published a piece on tutoring underprivileged kids. She spoke with us about her experience researching for the piece, and finding out about the tutoring program in Chicago, in which recent college grads tutored underprivileged kids and found that grades improved significantly. She spoke about how great of a program it is and how low-cost it was, especially due to the plethora of service-hour requirements out there - she said that many people may be willing to tutor for free to fulfill service-hour requirements, and would find it a great alternative to more labor-intensive service hour opportunities. She really liked our proposal, and suggested honing in on math, as that category showed the most easy improvement, and suggested expanding beyond just teachers, which would be expensive.

CONSULTATION 4: Julia Quinn is an associate director of both the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and Education Lab. She spoke about her research into educational outcomes and explained that contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s very much possible to change a student’s academic path in high school, despite past failures. She explained that in her study, students were able to catch up on 1-2 prior years worth of math throughout the course of the tutoring program. Previously, we considered starting our proposed program much earlier, like in middle school. However, what we took away from this conversation was that starting this program in high school is still feasible in terms of producing strong educational outcomes. Starting this program in high school would also lead to lower costs overall.


Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

Stefan had a lot of advice for us, much of which echoed those of the consultations above. He recommended that we find more feasible solutions that are more realistic to pass. He reiterated that policy proposals are often about getting things done, not always being idealistic, and told us to make sure to understand the distinctions between what levels of government are appropriate to fund certain programs. He explained that if we are able to properly articulate a very specific plan, especially in regards to funding of the program, we would have a better chance of the State Legislature closing considering the policy as it was very well researched. We have incorporated this into our solutions, and tailored our solutions more to fixing this specific problems rather than having extremely progressive solutions catered to solving poverty as a whole. We think that our solutions are now much more feasible.


Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

Our research process was very basic at first, and we created the proposal and the accompanying solutions largely based on what we thought would idealistically solve the issue of poverty in Michigan and break its vicious circle which would lead to better educational outcomes, incorporating research to support our conclusions. Our initial idea was to have teachers tutor students 1:1 and be paid a small increase in their salaries. However, after meeting with Michael Fahy to discuss our proposal and after reading Stefan’s comments, we learned that we had to do more of a “bottom-up” approach, finding research and using that to form our conclusions rather than the other way around. We started our consultations, and in addition to those listed above, we talked to peers who do tutoring for $19 an hour as well a friend who plays women’s lacrosse for Michigan, Hailey Mead, about her experiences with the tutoring program from the tutoree’s side. We also spoke with our peers about potentially going to Detroit and tutoring to fulfill volunteer hours and to receive scholarships, and got a surprising amount of interest. Many felt that this would be a great addition to the other existing programs, and it could be a great way to genuinely give back to the community while possibly getting scholarship money to finance the cost of their college. We learned about which subjects students need the most help with, and whether the tutoring programs are effective from various perspectives and how they can be improved. What we gleaned from this is that tutoring programs sometimes tutor on things students already know really well, so we should only be tutoring students based on need and the student’s own motivation to do better, and not be wasting tutor hours on unmotivated or already-knowledgeable students. We also learned from our consultations as well as articles and existing organizations ( and, for example) about the relative infeasibility of asking for funding for teachers to tutor students with teachers’ unions getting involved and the high cost it would entail, especially with the availability of student tutors who would be willing to accept far less in wages and could receive the benefit of scholarships. Overall, we had a more simplistic approach going in, looking at overly-idealistic solutions to our problem (in addition to teacher tutoring, we had Universal Basic Income and other extremely progressive ideas). However, as often happens with overly simplistic policy, we learned quickly about the complexities of the issue. Despite this complexity, we learned from our consultations that policies like this have been implemented before and have resoundingly worked. However, the models that seemed to work well and were the most feasible often centered around student tutoring, which is eventually the model we switched to in lieu of teacher tutoring. After learning more about the field, we developed a more feasible and ultimately, we hope, more effective proposal, with lower-cost students volunteering to tutor and receiving small scholarships as well as volunteer hours in return.


Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

Garrett was responsible for a variety of tasks. First, he compiled a list of 3 different studies that addressed the impacts of one-on-one tutoring programs on low-income student success rate. After thoroughly reading the studies, taking specific data points from each that allowed us to gain the insight to draw specific conclusions about the impacts of tutoring programs on poverty. Additionally, Garrett contacted Anthony Hawk from Detroit Public Schools and asked questions pertaining to which subjects he believes students would benefit the most from getting tutored in. Additionally, Garrett contacted Debra Bruno after reading her article in Politico that demonstrated the success story of a tutoring program in Chicago. Garrett spoke specifically with her about the funding of such a program and how we could it in a way that was low cost but still effective.

Jon was also responsible for a variety of tasks. Jon also compiled a list of 3 different studies that examined the success of tutoring programs for low-income students, reading the studies to gain insights. After speaking with Garrett about Garrett’s conversation with Debra and how to fund a program like this, Jon examined different non-profits, including Elevate Tutoring, to get a sense of what would be an effective model and what models currently exist to fund these types of programs. Additionally, Jon contacted Catherine Bradshaw from Elevate Tutoring to learn more about the model and structure of their tutoring, as well as their successful results. Additionally, Jon contacted Julia Quinn, an associate director of both the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and Education Lab. Jon spoke with her primarily about how her study demonstrated that high school students, despite being late in their educational career, could still make up lost time with a tutoring program.

Together, both of us worked on their media artifact, brainstorming 3 possible solutions to the original problem, and writing all aspects of the proposal including the preambulatory clauses, operative clauses, addressing counter arguments, and explaining the cost and funding mechanism for the program.



The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... Low-income students who are struggling in their classes do not have access to tutoring instruction that higher income students do tend to underperform comparatively to higher income students, leading to a vicious cycle of disadvantages for lower income students.

WHEREAS.... Continuously increasing class sizes leads to an academic environment that privileges higher-income students who have access to alternative education techniques leading to disparities in educational attainment regardless of academic ability.

WHEREAS.... Students with learning disabilities that require specific educational accommodations lack access due to disparities in income regardless of motivation or ability leading to disadvantages in the college admissions and job search processes.


Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).


1. As part of a 3 middle-school pilot program in Michigan at poorly performing, mid-size school districts near Ann Arbor, Detroit, and East Lansing, lower-income students would have access to a program in which high achieving college students would tutor them in weekly tutoring sessions in a 1 tutor per 2 student setting.

2. Create a system in which students, of both lower- and higher-incomes at high schools and universities can apply via their home school to become a tutor for a low-income student near their home school.

3. These students would be vetted based on their performance in the subject, and lower-income tutors would receive scholarships up to $6,000 to an in-state college of their choosing, while all students would get volunteer hours. Colleges (Wayne State University, University of Michigan, and Michigan State University would pilot the program) offering the scholarship will receive half of each student’s scholarship in tax breaks. The scholarship for lower-income students will be contingent upon completing at least 150 hours of tutoring, and the higher-performing tutors will be given the maximum $6,000 scholarship, while others would scale up to that based on performance. Colleges will be notified of high school participants in the program and be subsidized similarly if they give a scholarship to an incoming student.

4. Tutors would be continuously evaluated for effectiveness on a normal distribution, with top-performing tutors receiving the maximum scholarship and scaling downwards from there evenly. Poorly performing tutors, assessed independently from the curve resulting from low or negative tutoee growth, would be dismissed. Evaluations would be based primarily on student state test results, with grades from the classes in question and surveys sent out to students about the efficacy of each tutor assessed as well.

5. 80% of accepted tutors would be in mathematics, while the rest will be split amongst other subjects. 60% of mathematics tutors would be in geometry and trigonometry, the assessed weak subjects based on our consultations.

6. Encourage top-performing students from tutoring program to become tutors themselves, reinforcing sense of community and increasing number of applicants to program.

7. Use metrics such as increase in grade-point average among tutorees to gauge tutor performance, giving awards and special recognition for the most successful tutoring at a school district, encouraging high performance among tutors.



What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. The Michigan Department of Education nor the various partner universities will have the funds to subsidize or implement this program due to their tight budgets.

2. There are already enough social and educational programs in school, and already a ton of volunteer opportunities for students, which will constrict the supply of student tutors.

3. The vetting process for student tutor candidates would take time and money, and still might net individuals who do not know subjects well and may even make students more confused than when they started due to their own lack of knowledge.


Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from? Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?

The proposal will cost around $4 per tutoring hour. This comes for the average $20/hour that tutors will make from their 150 hours in scholarships, halved because tutoring would be 1:2, and halved halved again because we are subsidizing half of the scholarships with colleges handling the rest; then reduced slightly because we expect half of participants to be higher-income students but put in less hours towards tutoring. If we expect half utilization from these three mid-size schools of around 300 poor students, and we distribute tutoring slips at a rate of 1 per week, we can expect this program to cost $93,600 for all school districts combined. This amount will be lessened by the high-school tutors who will not attend one of the three participating colleges, which we expect to be around 10% (most will go to one of these colleges because they will be intending to upon starting the program because of the scholarship), so we get a final number of $84,240. This money goes towards an additional great cause: helping student tutors below the poverty line attend college.

The funding will come from the Michigan Department of Education’s State Aid and School Finance unit’s budget.

People who will object to this proposal will primarily be higher income individuals who are slightly above the poverty line and don’t qualify for the program. They will likely be upset that they will be subsidizing others education through their taxes while not getting tutoring themselves. Tutoring companies and teachers who tutor might be against it, as there will be a lower demand for their services due to this new free service.





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Total votes: 27