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S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley announced her K-12 Education Reform Initiative on Wednesday, Jan. 8, which aims to increase funding for disadvantaged students as well as initiate a reading coach program and improve technology at the state’s schools.
Haley announced her intentions to develop the bipartisan initiative last January during her annual State of the State address.
Over the past year, Haley and staff met with 16 different groups of education stakeholders including teachers, administrators, business leaders, community members and members of the S.C. General Assembly.
The goal of the “Education Conversations,” a release from Haley’s office said, was to identify challenges facing the state’s public schools and determine the best way to address them.
“Providing every child in South Carolina with the same education opportunities isn’t just something we should talk about,” Haley said. “It’s something we should be actively fighting to achieve, and that’s what we’re doing today. “
The initiative includes changes in the state’s education funding formula for school districts and includes additional money for improvements in three general areas:
u Disadvantaged students – Starting with Haley’s 2014-15 fiscal budget, the initiative provides the state’s school districts with $97 million dedicated to students in the poorest communities.
School districts will receive 20 percent more funding for students who are eligible for free or reduced meals and/or Medicaid.
The initiative provides a 20 percent supplement for students with low English proficiency who require individualized instructional plans that include family involvement.
It also increases funding for students with individualized education plans (IEPs), gifted and talent students, those that fail to show basic proficiency on standardized tests and students ages 17 to 21 pursuing a diploma or GED through adult education programs.
u Reading coaches – The initiative establishes a reading coach program in every public elementary school in the state to improve student proficiency in the foundational reading.
The goal is to make sure students are proficient readers before advancing beyond third grade so they’ll perform better through middle and high school. Another hope is that better performance in high school will help lower the state’s dropout rate.
The plan says that reading coaches at elementary schools in which 20 percent or more of students failed to meet basic state reading standards will be funded at 100 percent. Reading coaches at the remaining elementary schools will be 50 percent funded if the school district agrees to fund the remaining 50 percent.
In the Lancaster County School District, five elementary schools will receive fully-funded reading coaches: Brooklyn Springs, Clinton, Discovery School, Erwin and Kershaw elementary schools, according to program details released Wednesday.
Buford, Heath Springs, Indian Land, McDonald Green and North elementary schools will receive 50 percent-funded reading coaches.
The initiative also increases summer reading camp funding from FY 2013-14 budget’s $1.5 million to $6 million in FY 2014-15.
u Technology improvements – Haley’s initiative proposes $29.3 million in upcoming fiscal budget for use in improving bandwidth to schools and launching or enhancing school districts’ efforts to ensure every student has a computer or tablet. The initiative will also provide $4 million for teacher technology training.
The current $10.2 million in technology funding under the Education Improvement Act will continue during the upcoming budget while this fiscal year’s $4 million in one-time funding for digital instructional materials will be increased to $12 million in the 2014-15 budget. Under the initiative, the Lancaster County School District would receive $405,335 in technology allocations as part of the next fiscal budget.
The initiative also proposes to increase funding and performance guidelines for charter schools.
Haley’s 2014-15 fiscal budget increases per-student subsidies for students attending “brick and mortar” charter schools by $350 to $3,600 and raises per-student funding for the state’s online “virtual” charter from $1,700 to $1,900. The budget also includes $750,000 to fund 10 new teacher positions in the Virtual Schools Program.
The previously unfunded Charter School Revolving Loan Facility Program will receive a one-time allocation of $4 million for construction capital or purchase, renovation and/or maintenance of facilities.
Under the initiative, charter schools that receive the lowest performance rating three years in a row must be closed.
Touching on one of the most contentious new educational programs in the state, the governor’s initiative makes changes to the state’s Exceptional Needs Tax Credit program to encourage an estimated $2 million increase in contributions to “nonprofit scholarship granting organizations.”
In what some opponents characterize as a state voucher program in disguise, the organizations help South Carolina families pay tuition for their children to attend private schools.
During her announcement, Haley said she believes the initiative will help improve education for all South Carolina students regardless of socioeconomic background.
“By reforming South Carolina’s antiquated funding formula, providing funding for reading coaches and new technology, we are taking a stand against the idea that where you are born and raised should influence the quality of your education,” Haley said.
“We have an obligation, as good citizens, and as a government, to provide every child with the chance to reach their potential in the classroom – that is our obligation and that is my promise,” she said.
Though Haley’s reform initiative is ambitious, the funding figures in the initiative could change during the ongoing state 2014-15 budgeting process.
In South Carolina, the governor’s office and both houses of the state General Assembly work to consolidate their separately proposed budgets.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151