Gov. Nikki Haley wants the state to spend about $160 million in mostly new money to educate students living in poverty, hire reading coaches and expand classroom technology.
The first-term Lexington Republican unveiled the details of her long-anticipated education reform plan Wednesday at Brookland-Cayce Grammar 1 in West Columbia to a group of teachers, students, representatives of education advocacy groups, lawmakers, state Board of Education members and state schools Superintendent Mick Zais.
Most of the money to pay for Haley’s proposals — about $130 million — would come from the $200 million in new revenue that the state expects to have this year. But about $29 million would come from the state’s capital reserve fund, her office confirmed. Haley has said the proposal would require no tax increases.
The plan would focus resources on low-income school districts and those where students struggle in reading, Haley said.
For example, $29.5 million would go to pay for the full salary of a reading coach in 300 elementary schools in districts where 20 percent or more of the students fail to meet the basic state standards for reading. Another 340 schools would be offered money to cover half the cost of a reading coach if their school district agrees to match the money.
The plan calls for $6 million for summer reading camps, up from $1.5 million that the General Assembly committed last year to start the camps.
Haley also is requesting $29.3 million from the state’s capital reserves to add to an existing $10.2 million to pay for technology, both wireless access and computing devices for students.
Haley’s reading and technology proposals are similar to proposals already advocated by education leaders.
Citing the need for increased access to technology to schools, for example, Zais and the S.C. Education Oversight Committee have asked Haley to increase state spending on technology. A state Senate proposal focusing on teaching reading also has gained momentum.
Haley’s proposal also includes money for training teachers to teach reading and use technology.
More for low-income students
Educator groups also have said the decades-old formula that sets state funding for school districts is outdated and needs reform.
Haley’s plan includes revising that formula to include a 20 percent increase in state money for districts that educate students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches or Medicaid, two indicators of poverty. Her plan also would increase state money for students who require more individualized education plans, including struggling readers, students who perform poorly on tests, and gifted and talented students.
Haley also wants to reduce some of the complexity in the way the state pays for public education.
School districts now receive money from a number of different sources, including local property taxes, and federal and state dollars. Those state dollars also come from different pots of money, governed by different laws.
Overall, Haley’s plan would boost the increase the amount of money in a formula that determines how much state money goes to districts based on the number of students, cost of educating them, and the districts’ ability to raise local property taxes.
That amount — called the base student cost — is one way that education advocates gauge how committed the General Assembly is to funding public education. Haley’s plan would boost that amount to $2,120 a student from $2,101, the amount lawmakers approved last year. Critics complain that funding is about $600 a student short of what state law recommends.
Reactions to the plan
Education groups said Haley’s plan sounded good, but they want to review its details.
Debbie Elmore with the S.C. School Boards Association said Haley’s plan to “focus the funding more on students in terms of what it takes to teach a child in poverty” is “a good thing.”
But Elmore said she plans to look more closely at Haley’s plan to change the funding formula to ensure that districts do not lose state money.
Molly Spearman, executive director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, said: “We always want to look at the details and where the money is going to come from. But, as far as the focus, she is right on target as to what could improve education and bring us all together in South Carolina.”
The proposal is “refreshing,” Spearman said, adding the state’s last major education reform push came under Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges.
“Educators just want good ideas and support. They’re not really concerned whether it comes from a Republican, a Democrat or an independent,” she said.
Haley’s likely Democratic challenger for governor in November, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, also has made education a central part of his campaign, proposing that the state create a full-day kindergarten program for all 4-year-olds and announcing Tuesday his plans to introduce a bill that would raise the state’s minimum teacher salary to the national average.
For years, Democrats also have been pushing for poverty to be included as a factor in determining how many state dollars go to school districts.
“That’s nothing new, and I’m glad she’s on board with that,” Sheheen said.
Sheheen also said education was the government service hit hardest by Haley’s veto pen.
In the three years Haley has been in office, she has vetoed $110 million in public education spending, including $95 million in her first year in office. Those vetoes account for nearly a quarter of the funding that Haley has vetoed, The State reported in June.
But Haley said Wednesday that her education plan — the result of meetings with teachers, principals, business leaders and education advocates — is her “No. 1” priority this year.
Haley has said her experience growing up and going to school in rural Bamberg County has given her insight into the state’s education disparities. Wednesday, she shared a more recent example with the audience.
Her daughter, Haley said, “goes to the fabulous River Bluff High School in Lexington,” where every classroom has a 72-inch TV and every child has an iPad.
“Yet when I went back to Bamberg to give an anti-bullying speech, they didn’t even have the equipment for me to play a video — that’s immoral. That’s wrong. We can’t be OK with that,” she said.
Haley stressed her plan is a “multi-year” commitment needed, in part, to show businesses outside the state that S.C. leaders are committed to improving the state’s education system and growing a strong economy.
“This is important to make sure our kids stay home. This is important to make sure our kids have a chance.
“This is important to lift up all of South Carolina so it doesn’t just look like we’re lucky to be getting those jobs — that we’re investing in those kids who will have those jobs in the future.”
IN BRIEFPDF: Read the plan in full
Gov. Nikki Haley unveiled a $160 million education proposal Wednesday. The plan’s new spending mostly would come $200 million in additional tax revenue the state expects to collect this year. A look at what the proposal includes:
$97 million for children in poverty
$29.5 million for reading coaches
$29.3 million for improving schools’ Internet bandwidth and computing devices
$750,000 to pay for 10 additional teachers in the state’s Virtual Schools Program
$4 million for the state’s charter school facilities loan program, established in 2012 but never funded