Haley unveils public education reforms

Derik Vanderford Civitas Media

January 27, 2014

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley unveiled her new public education reform initiative, which will focus on providing more support for poorer school districts, increasing literacy levels across the state, increasing technology in the classrooms, and providing additional support for teachers.

Haley said last Wednesday that her biggest goal at the beginning of her campaign — the issue everyone talked about — was jobs.

“I knew from growing up in Bamberg and living in Bamberg that the only way to really bring up South Carolina was to bring up all of South Carolina — and that meant rural South Carolina,” Haley said, explaining that changes were then made to the business climate and also in commerce.

Haley said higher commissions were given for projects closed in rural areas than for projects closed in urban areas. She said the second part was job training, and now there is job training taking place in every county in the state. Haley said she had to come up with a business plan for the state.

“The one big bear in the room was K-12,” Haley said.

Haley put the situation in perspective by using her own family as an example, comparing her daughter’s school in Lexington County to schools in Bamberg County.

“My daughter goes to the big River Bluff High School in Lexington, where every classroom has a 72-inch TV and every child has an iPad,” Haley said. “Yet, when I went to go give an anti-bullying speech in Bamberg, they didn’t even have equipment for me to play the video on. That’s immoral. That’s wrong. We can’t be okay with the fact that we educate children based on where they are born and raised. We need to educate children based on the fact that they deserve a good quality education and that they are our future workforce.”

The governor said she had to come up with a long-term business plan for the state’s job growth, and the same thing has to be done in terms of education. She also mentioned her trip to the International Auto Show in Germany.

“At every meeting, the first question they asked me was what we were doing for education in South Carolina,” she said. “They wanted to know about their investment. They didn’t want to invest millions of dollars into South Carolina if we weren’t investing in their future workforce.”

Haley said she knew the timing was right for the state to roll out the new public education reform initiative.

Over the past several months, Haley met with members of the General Assembly, teachers, administrators, business leaders, and stakeholders to identify the challenges facing public schools and discuss ways to best overcome them. Haley said the most impactful meeting was with 50 teachers from around the state.

“They talked about reading and how awful it felt having to pass a child on to third grade, knowing they can’t read, in the name of a school or a district making the grade,” she said, adding that teachers also talked about their schools lacking technology compared to other districts.

“I came out thinking how demoralized they were — how these were the people we depend on to teach our children and to give them confidence, and we’ve done nothing to support them or give them confidence back.”

Haley said Wednesday’s roll-out is exactly what teachers said they needed.

“Now I feel like I know where we need to go,” she said.

Part One: A Simpler Funding Formula

“It’s hard to tackle education without looking at the funding formula in South Carolina,” Haley said. “We have funded children based on where they are born and raised instead of based on the fact they deserve a good education. We also saw disparities in the funding formula were based on grades so seniors would get more money than third graders, and if you look at it, there’s really no rhyme or reason to that.”

Haley said the state will now be indexing for poverty, making sure poverty-stricken districts are getting the help and resources they need.

“We are going through and redistributing,” Haley said. “Now, $100 million will go to the poverty districts.”

Haley said 20 percent more funding will be allocated for each student who signs up for free/reduced lunch or Medicaid, as well as students with low English proficiency. She said a focus will be placed on individualized learning, no matter what class, school or district.

The governor also pointed out there are 800,000 people in the state who do not have a GED. She said a focus will also be placed on adult education, particularly people ages 17-21 who are pursuing a diploma or GED.

“That can make a huge difference in what life looks like for them and for us 10 years from now,” she said.

Haley said every district wins with this formula.

“There is no district harmed or that sees a shortfall,” she said. “This will allow for more money in the classroom, which is what the teachers want; it’s what the parents want; it’s what the students want; and I think it will send us in the right direction on how we fund education going forward.”

Part Two: Emphasis On Reading

The reading portion of the new initiative will include a $30 million investment toward placing a reading coach at every elementary school in the state. The 300 elementary schools in which at least 20 percent of students failed to meet the basic state standards in reading will receive a fully state-funded coach; the other 340 schools will be offered half-funding, if the school district agrees to match.

Gov. Haley’s budget for the upcoming year also quadruples the state’s investment in summer reading camps, from $1.5 million to $6 million. The implementation of both the reading coaches and summer camps follow an example set by Florida.

“I did have conversations with Gov. Bush on how to proceed,” Haley said. “He said when they added the reading coaches and summer camps, they saw dramatic differences within two years.”

Gov. Haley said another thing brought up by deans of the universities in the state was professional development. The governor’s budget will offer up to $5 million in state funding for reading-related professional development for South Carolina’s teachers in FY 2014-15.

Part Three: An Investment In Technology

“We are doing an unprecedented initiative in technology, and I am really excited about this,” Haley said. “We are doing a multi-year commitment. This year, $30 million — on top of the $10 million that is already there — will go toward technology.”

The funding will be dedicated to improving bandwidth to school facilities, bolstering wireless connectivity within school walls, and launching or enhancing one-to-one technology initiatives. School districts will be allocated funds based upon their average daily membership and their poverty indices; the poorest districts will receive twice as much per-student as the wealthiest.

There will also be $12 million allocated for digital instruction.

“If we’re going to put the equipment in the schools, we need to make sure that we’re teaching them lesson plans on that equipment as well,” Haley said. “Teachers said, ‘Don’t give us the technology unless you’re going to teach us how to use it.’ We’re going to put $4 million into professional development, training teachers how to use this new technology coming into their schools.”

Gov. Haley said manufacturers want to see students coming out of high school are ready when it comes to technology. She said in order to bring all districts where they need to be, the cost will be around $97 million. Since $30 million is being put toward technology for coming fiscal year, the state is looking at a three-year commitment.

Part Four: An Expansion Of Public School Options

Gov. Haley said placing charter schools on a more level financial playing field will expand the range of educational models for parents to consider for their children.

“This is an option of public schools that we’ve seen grow tremendously, but something you may not know is 63 percent of the students in charter schools are in poverty,” she said. “When you combine that 63 percent with the fact that we are expecting a 27 percent increase in enrollment in charter schools this year, we knew we had to make sure we took this option we started and continued to make sure it is strong.”

Gov. Haley’s budget for FY 2014-15 increases the per-student subsidies for students attending “brick and mortar” charter schools from $3,250 to $3,600 and for those attending virtual charters from $1,700 to $1,900.

“The General Assembly started a loan program for charter schools, but they never funded it,” Haley said.

The Charter School Revolving Loan Facility Program will receive a $4 million one-time allocation in order to provide charter schools with access to capital for the construction, purchase, renovation, or maintenance of facilities. The budget will also include nearly $750,000 to fund 10 additional virtual school teachers.

Haley said this new initiative is a product of which she is extremely proud.

“It is something I hope 10 years from now people will look back and say this was a turning point in education in South Carolina,” she said.

Haley said it is important to understand the reform plan is a multi-year commitment, and the state cannot skip years in that commitment.

“I think this reform plan, if we go forward, it will strengthen the students in a way that they get a good education,” Haley said. “It will support the teachers in what they need and what they’ve asked for. It will allow the principals to see things functioning the way they need to, and it will give such a sense of peace to parents that yes, we’re thinking about their kids; we’re not just thinking about tomorrow.”