Local educators explain real impact of Gov. Haley’s plan

For nearly six months, educators across South Carolina waited for the details of Gov. Nikki Haley’s education plan which includes $180 million more in educational spending as well as changes in education funding formulas and a push for literacy.

Those details are now clearer, with area school districts incorporating Haley’s plan into their budgets and programming for the upcoming school year.

School administrators say some districts will benefit more than others because the money a district gets per student has changed. Instead of basing the funding on a student’s grade level, factors such as poverty, English proficiency, and special education status are now considered.

“Until we acknowledge the fact that we have poverty across this state and children born into poverty – it’s not their fault – it’s the reason we have to do even more,” Haley said at a news conference celebrating the passage of her plan.

The change means districts with higher poverty levels – and, therefore, a lower tax base – are getting additional funding from the state.

In school districts such as Fort Mill, where the poverty rate is 20.5 percent, they don’t have the ability to make up that money.

“For us, it’s not a dollar-for-dollar swap because we’re primarily residential,” said Leanne Lordo, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

Schools receive property taxes from businesses and cars, not private residences.

While Fort Mill has a relatively low poverty rate, it’s also the state’s fastest-growing district with more than 660 new students expected for the 2014-2015 school year. Funding increases aren’t keeping up with growth, Lordo said.

There are several other costs that affect the funding increases in Haley’s plan. One is a state-mandated increase in teacher pay, which many districts are extending to all employees. Other costs include increases in insurance and retirement benefits.

In the Rock Hill School District, Haley’s plan means about $135,000 in new funding, said Elaine Bilton, executive director of finance. However, a salary increase alone will cost the district $1.2 million.

Schools will receive additional funding for technology under Haley’s plan. While local administrators said they are grateful for “any additional funding” for technology, Charles King, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the Chester School District, said he is concerned that some of the allocations won’t have as large an impact as the governor predicted.

Chester will receive about $264,000 in technology fundsunder Haley’s plan while York schools will get just under $172,000. Wireless network improvements alone will cost York about $800,000, superintendent Vernon Prosser said in January.

Anotherelement of Haley’s plan is the “Read to Succeed” legislation which mandates student performance in reading, provides funding for reading coaches at the elementary level and expands 4K programming across the state.

Some schools got full funding for a reading position, while others got partial funding.

“A caveat is the state’s definition of ‘fully funded’ does not truly cover the cost of the reading coaches,” King said.

His district preempted “Read to Succeed” by hiring additional coaches in recent years. Since the state will now be providing much of the funding for those positions, Chester may move funds to other programs to try and improve student achievement, he said.

One of the greatest benefits for the York School District was the addition of 4K programming, Prosser said. All five elementary school in York will have at least one section of 20 students enrolled in fully-funded 4K classes. Three schools will have two sections. More than 170 students have already enrolled, he said.

Area administrators said they will approach the reforms as they do with everything involved with public education – on a year-by-year basis.

York is optimistic the funding will be reoccurring, Prosser said, but until they see it in future years, officials won’t count on it. He compared the new programs and funding to grants, which the district often relies on to fund or partially fund initiatives and programs.

“Grants all have a sunset clause on them and that’s how I look at this,” he said.

Fort Mill, like York, is ready to pay for new programming in subsequent years.

“We feel like it is an important enough initiative at the state level that we’re hopeful they’ll continue to fund it,” Lordo said.

Bilton said it is “unfortunate” that the state funds public education on a year- to-year basis because school districts are never sure what their state funding will be , making long-term planning challenging.

“This is not a one-year fix,” Haley said. “We have to do this every single year.”

She did not specify the amount of money needed for reform in future years.