By Robert Kittle
Gov. Nikki Haley announced her plan Wednesday afternoon for changing South Carolina schools, including a new funding formula, more focus on reading in the early grades, and more technology in all schools.
The biggest part of her plan would send $97 million in additional money to high-poverty school districts.
"20 percent more per student if they are in a poverty district," she says. "If they are free or reduced lunch or if they are on Medicaid, we're going to give 20 percent more per student." Schools would also get 20 percent more per student with low proficiency in English who require individualized instructional plans that include family involvement.
The funding formula would also be evened out so schools would get the same amount of money for each student regardless of grade level. "We give more money to seniors than we do third-graders, but there's no really scientific reason for doing that," Gov. Haley says.
She came up with the plan after a year of meetings with teachers, principals, administrators, and local school board members. Molly Spearman, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, says she likes what she's heard of the plan so far.
But Jackie Hicks, president of the South Carolina Education Association, says there's no reason to change the current school funding formula. She says, "We don't know if that actually works because it's only been fully-funded for 12 years since the 1970s. So for us to look at new ways to fund public education, why don't we see if the laws that are in place, if we actually follow-through with them, would they truly make a difference?"
When asked about that, Gov. Haley said, "You know, I can't talk about the 1970s. What I can talk about is we increased the student base funding this year. We are adding to all of this. This is about being positive and going forward, saying that we have to do a multi-year commitment to education."
The second part of her plan is a $29.5 million reading improvement program, including putting a reading coach in every elementary school in the state. There would also be summer reading camps for students in high-poverty districts.
Teacher Jed Dearybury, who teaches 2nd grade at Woodland Heights Elementary in Spartanburg District 6 and is the district Teacher of the Year, was at Gov. Haley's announcement in West Columbia. "I am thrilled that we have someone who is willing to listen to teachers, listen to the voice of educators," he says.
The final part of her plan is to spend $29.3 million to upgrade technology, including making sure every school has wireless connectivity and every student has a computer or tablet. That money includes $4 million in teacher training so they know how to make the best use of the technology in their teaching.
The total for her proposal is $155.8 million. When asked where that money would come from, she said, "It is from additional funds. It's from collapsing some formulas and putting them together. You will see all that play out in the budget on Monday." But she did say that no school district would lose any money.
State Democrats were quick to criticize the governor's plan. State House Democrat Leader Todd Rutherford of Columbia said, "Today Governor Haley rolled out her latest campaign initiative. While it is encouraging to finally hear her talk about the importance of education, I am disappointed that it has taken her nearly four years to show any type of leadership on this issue. Because of her total absence and lack of leadership on education, most South Carolinians will see Governor Haley's 'reform' package as nothing more than election year politics."