Struggling Beaufort County students might have seen the last of extra school days that district officials say have helped improve standardized test scores.
The program, which consists of four weeklong sessions per school year, has been mostly funded with federal stimulus money.
But that money has run out. Unless the district can find a new source of money, the program's last session was during last week's spring break, according to academic improvement officer Melissa Sheppard.
Finding grants hasn't been easy, Sheppard said. The district has been looking for other funding sources for at least a year, since it was known the stimulus money would expire.
Many grants are targeted toward specific groups of students. During the program's three years, it has been expanded to include elementary and middle school students who have not met reading and math targets on Measures of Academic Progress or the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards exams. High school students failing a course can use the time to complete credit-recovery programs. Last week, about 2,800 students attended the program.
"There's not a whole lot out there for added programming," Sheppard said. "There's just not a lot of grant availability that we've been able to find that ... would allow us to include all children."
The program has cost about $2.5 million per year, district spokesman Jim Foster has said.
Sheppard said most of those costs are related to personnel -- teachers are paid their usual per-day rate for working the extra days. Some of the money is spent on transportation and breakfast and lunch for the students.
Laura Phillips, a literacy coach who coordinates the program at Okatie Elementary School, said she's worried students will backslide if the program closes. Smaller classes and targeted instruction have helped the students in the program make gains, she said.
District figures show that elementary and middle school students in the program are narrowing gaps on standardized tests in reading and math, though they aren't passing their peers' scores. Sheppard has said the gains cannot be definitively traced to the extra learning days, but the district believes they contribute.
The Board of Education voted in March to try to keep any program that accelerates student achievement or closes achievement gaps, as it considers about $6 million in budget cuts to keep pace with rising costs. Board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said extended learning time may fall in that category, so it's possible the program could be funded from the district's operating budget rather than by grants.
"If it's proven it is significant in terms of being positive and having results, then why would you get rid of something that's doing what you're trying to achieve?" he asked.