SC education leader wants more summer school money

South Carolina News

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s top education official wanted $115 million for summer school programs to get some of the state’s most vulnerable students back on track after missing at least 10 weeks of in-person classes because of the coronavirus.

But Accelerate SC, the state’s special reopening committee, only recommended about 10% of that from the $1.9 billion of COVID-19 relief the federal government is giving the state.

So state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman is cutting her ambitious plans while also planning to go above their heads to the governor and ultimately the General Assembly to see if they will set aside more money before voting on the final plan to spend the pandemic money next month.

The questions over education spending simmered Monday as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 90 new coronavirus cases and five additional deaths. South Carolina has recorded 440 confirmed deaths and more than 10,000 confirmed infections.

The current funding is enough to provide one week of summer school to help special education students and younger elementary students struggling to read, education officials said.

At a special meeting Thursday of educators making plans to reopen public schools in the fall, Spearman called her discussions with Accelerate SC members a “classic chicken or the egg” problem. They asked her how many students she wanted in summer school. She said that was impossible without knowing how much money she would have to spend.

Spearman’s group also discussed other fall plans. She would like to get a full-time nurse in every school, saying in the new COVID-19 world, it is just as important as having a police officer. Officials are trying to determine how many more nurses would have to be hired, estimating to cost at up to $15 million.

Other committee members recommended a mental health team of counselors, teachers, administrators and outside therapists to check on students who might have had difficulties during the school shutdown.

“The main challenge in reopening for summer programs is the same we’re going to have in the fall and that is parents, students and staff feeling it’s safe to come back to school,” said Alan Walters, state School Board member who is also Executive Director of Safety and Risk Management for the Georgetown County School District.

The committee also heard a presentation from a focus group of teachers arranged by the state Education Department.

They said safety was their first priority, followed by getting their students caught up. They all wanted fewer standardized tests next school year to increase instruction time and prevent unfair comparisons after the pandemic chaos.

The focus group also were skeptical about proposals to have smaller groups of children in classrooms while the rest of the class learns online, rotating the groups either daily or weekly.

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