Beaufort County elementary students could have their school year extended by six to eight weeks starting this summer.
The General Assembly is considering a requirement that school districts and the state Department of Education provide summer reading camps for third-graders who are not reading at grade level.
The directive would come with little state funding -- $1.2 million total -- so the local districts likely would have to pick up a majority of the tab for the camps.
"Districts have the ability to move dollars around, so we are asking them when they are making those lists and priorities and budgets to please put reading first, and then the rest will fall into place," state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said.
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This is not the typical unfunded mandate because reading is something every district should put money toward, Erickson said. Hearings for the proposal will begin this week, but she said it is expected to pass.
"If a child can't read proficiently, then they struggle and will always be that at-risk child that never experiences success," she added.
In the 2012-13 school year, nearly 2,000 of the more than 50,000 students around the state who took the third-grade PASS test for reading did not meet standards, according to the state Department of Education. Based on the available funding, school districts would get about $605 per student who failed the test to pay for the camps.
In Beaufort County, 62 students scored "not met" on last year's test, district chief instructional services officer Dereck Rhoads said. That would mean the district would get about $37,000 from the state -- not enough to compensate teachers for the summer work, he said.
The district will consider putting a line item for the camps in its future budgets, Rhoads said.
He could not provide an exact cost for the camps because it would depend on how many students participate. Students would not be required to attend the camps, but the district would encourage them to do so.
Rhoads added that he knows some families would resist the disruption to summer vacations and other activities, but he hopes they would participate.
Beaufort County schools also intend to make the camp, which would run from June 9 through July 31, available to first- and second-graders who are considered below proficient. Rhoads said that would be determined by several factors, such as Measures of Academic Progress test results and teacher assignments.
"We realized that we shouldn't wait until third grade if the child isn't reading on grade level," Rhoads said. "If we could close the gap sooner, then why wouldn't we do that?"
The school district said it would partner with groups such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs and Neighborhood Outreach Connection to host the camps so parents could find a convenient location.
Parents could have to pay a nominal fee for transportation, but Rhoads said the district hopes to avoid that.
The state department has scheduled a meeting in February to provide more direction on what the camps should look like. Beaufort County schools would then begin to reach out to students to see how many are interested in participating, Rhoads said.
"I don't ever think additional time on task for students is a bad idea or putting books in the hands of students is a bad idea," he said. "So we will take advantage of these camps."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.