2023 Investigative & Public Service (Education-Only Outlets) Winner

Kalyn Belsha, Chalkbeat

About the Winner:

Chalkbeat national reporter Kalyn Belsha set out to look at the rise in virtual tutoring to address pandemic learning loss. What she uncovered about the methods used by one of the largest tutoring providers prompted at least one big district to slash spending on the service – and may lead to the unionization of the company’s employees.

Kalyn interviewed 75 people, filed at least 33 public records requests and reviewed hundreds of pages of internal documents and screenshots of employee communications for her reporting on Paper, a company that held contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to tutor more than three million students across the U.S. and Canada. Much of that was backed by federal COVID relief funding.

Kalyn convinced multiple tutors and Paper managers to trust her with not only their stories but confidential documents. They shared with her proof of the pressure the company placed on them to juggle students, and they described in detail how children were shortchanged. They even opened up about how the breakneck pace impacted their lives – including one tutor who suffered a urinary tract infection from lack of bathroom breaks. In the end, Paper did not contest her findings.

Comments From the Judges:

“Strong narrative, impact, access to data and documents and centering that the pandemic continues to have so many ripple effects even if the general public and journalism seems to have moved on. This piece reminded me of the new era of factory worker exploitation we have seen time and time again and led to disenfranchisement of people trying to stay above water in their jobs.”

“A terrific investigation. All the on-the-record interviews were wonderful. It really showed how cutting corners led to a sub-par experience for the students and a waste of money for the school districts that contracted with the tutoring company, Paper.”

Photo credits: Chalkbeat/Rosem Morton; Sebastián Hidalgo