Some Horry County Schools officials are cautiously optimistic about Gov. Nikki Haleys new K-12 Education Reform Initiative, saying they are happy she is emphasizing education, but more details are needed on how the initiative will affect Horry County.
Anything to improve education is a good thing, said Horry County school board member Jeffrey Garland, citing money for technology and reading coaches as a positive move, but the details for the funding formula havent come up that could be good or bad.
Haleys plan specifies that $1.3 million would be allocated to Horry County for technology, something HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry and board members welcome to offset costs for the personalized digital learning initiative the district launched at the beginning of January. The PDL initiative aims to put a digital learning device in the hands of every student over a three-year period.
We always need more money for technology, and it will help us reduce costs, said board member Harvey Eisner.
The governors initiative also provides for state-funded reading coaches. Four Horry County schools the Academy of Hope charter school and Homewood, Myrtle Beach and Pee Dee elementary schools would receive coaches funded by the state at 100 percent, and the districts remaining elementary-level schools and charters would have reading coaches funded at 50 percent.
We already have reading interventionists, so hopefully we can use that money in another way, said board member Janice Morreale, adding that allocating money for online book purchases instead of textbooks also would be helpful.
Elsberry said it is encouraging for the governor to come out in support of education, but she is concerned that there may not be enough flexibility with funding for reading coaches that would allow the district to align it with the literacy program that already is in place.
The governor also wants to provide more funding for students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, those with low English proficiency and those with more individualized education plans, such as gifted and talented students. Elsberry said that is a positive and logical step because it is more difficult to educate children who fall into any of those categories, but it shouldnt be a step that decreases the base student cost, which is the states main funding mechanism for schools.
Board member Karen McIlrath said she has no problem with equitable distribution of funds among districts, but she also is very concerned about the possibility of a decrease in the base student cost. She said the district is working hard to move forward and make big strides, but she doesnt have a tremendous amount of confidence in the state, as the governor has a history of vetoing education programs, and the state superintendent has not advocated for having the base student cost raised.
One item that board Chairman Joe DeFeo and Elsberry are against is the Read to Succeed legislation, which would retain children who are not proficient readers at the end of third grade. They say the initiative doesnt include all the research, and studies show that children who are retained twice have a 100 percent chance of dropping out of school, doing worse in the long run.
Elsberry said it is better to advance the child but to provide small-group instruction and interventions to help them keep up with their peers. All students dont learn at the same rate, she said, and a retention policy is a dated system that is the opposite of programs such as Whittemore Park Middle Schools pilot program to advance students by competency.
DeFeo said problems in Horry County are different than those in Columbia or in other counties, and that the state needs to allow local school boards and superintendents to do what they need to do for their districts.
I look forward to the governor wanting to spend more money on education, DeFeo said, but if there are a lot of strings attached to that money, most of it will be wasted.
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.