CHARLESTON — Michele Powell considers her students' environmental science textbooks a critical instructional resource, but the books' condition leaves much to be desired.
Some are being held together by tape while others are missing pages. One student had to pair up with a classmate last week because his book didn't have the pages being covered in Powell's lesson.
"It presents some challenges," she said.
This scenario repeats itself daily at schools across the state. Some educators say the problem has worsened in recent years, which coincides with the state's decision to ax money for new textbooks to cope with severe budget cuts.
The state Department of Education provides textbooks for students statewide. For the past two years, it has received money for consumable instructional materials, such as workbooks and science kits, but has been prohibited from using the money to buy new textbooks. Any leftover money is supposed to go toward teachers' salaries.
For next school year, State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais recommended trimming and reallocating education funds for a total savings of $71 million, and that included cutting $34 million for new textbooks. The proposed House-approved budget sets aside $36 million for instructional materials, such as textbooks, but it gives the state the option of forgoing new textbooks to pass on the savings to districts.
Education Department spokesman Jim Foster said it's too early to say what Zais would do should the agency receive those funds, but his two budget priorities are protecting instructional days and classroom expenses. If forced to choose between textbooks or teachers' jobs, he would go with jobs, Foster said.
"It's not an ideal solution, but it's the best solution given a very grim set of budget circumstances this year," he said.
The decision to reduce money for textbooks is having real implications for those who use the materials daily. Powell is dean of Wando High's Math, Science and Engineering School of Study, and she teaches environmental science and biotechnical engineering. Her environmental science textbooks were published in 2003, which means they lack the latest, or even recent, developments in the field.
Powell reads newspapers and scans online environmental websites to keep abreast of the news, and she passes that information on to her students. So much has changed in the past decade, and the class' outdated book does little to inform them on those issues, she said.
The state tries to replace textbooks every six years and technology-related textbooks every three years, but many books are overdue. The oldest book on the state's priority list for replacement was a physical education text published in 2001, and some computer-related subjects, such as computer science and computer programming, haven't been updated since 2006. Environmental science textbooks are No. 15 on the list, and books at the top include high school math, such as algebra, geometry and calculus.
School Principal Lucy Beckham said this wasn't a problem in the past because the school had more books, but its inventory has been reduced.
"Our teachers are resourceful, and they're used to doing more with less," she said. "They say, 'We'll do the best we can with what we've got,' but at some point, you've got to give them something to work with."