SC’s Haley Proposes Investment in Rural, Impoverished Schools

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s (R) plans for improving education in the state include offering students the opportunity to graduate from college debt-free and providing as much as $200 million per year for school construction.

This week the governor, who joined state Superintendent Molly Spearman at a school in rural Gaston, spoke about the education initiatives she hopes to accomplish in her third year in office, writes Seanna Adcox for The Herald.

Haley has announced a 2016-17 budget proposal and will include a rundown of all the education measures that included in her initiatives. Lawmakers have until June to develop a plan to save South Carolina’s struggling education system.

A 21-year-old case involving the state’s failure to provide educational opportunities in low-income, rural school districts was ruled on by the state’s high court in November 2014. Haley has made it clear that her actions have nothing to do with that lawsuit.

Haley has designated $15 million for attracting and retaining teachers for these needy communities. Included in this amount are annual scholarships of up to $7,500 for four years of college given to education majors who commit to teaching in a district for eight years. The districts where the teachers would be employed are those with turnover rates of over 12%.

Some of the scholarship money would be earmarked for scholarships given to teachers and aides who are already employed in the districts and are working on certification or master’s degrees.

This year will mark the third of a three-year $29 million a year commitment toward improvements to technology in public schools. An additional $5 million has been set aside for the most impoverished schools, along with $5 million for approximately 10,000 low-income students’ at-home internet access.

Gov. Haley’s initiative adds one new request, which is to borrow up to $200 million a year for schools beginning in the 2017-18 school year. She proposes to put 1% of South Carolina’s debt capacity in a fund for public schools, depending on legislative approval.

“My heart is always in rural areas,” said Haley, who grew up in tiny Bamberg. “Morale matters. … We want them to feel safe and we want them to feel they’re worthy.”

Spearman and Haley agree that districts’ infrastructure must be evaluated with the aid of $2.5 million worth of designated budget money for statewide school buildings’ inspection.

One of the first changes will be an $80 increase to the per-pupil allotment, bringing it to $2,300 annually. Bus drivers will also receive a pay raise from $7.46 an hour to $10.96. Districts will be allowed to offer drivers full-time positions and give them more responsibilities throughout the school day.

Rachel Ham of ColaDaily writes that the governor hopes to add teacher pay increases as the next major step in the state’s education plan. And two early learning programs, Babynet and First Steps, need changes to move beyond the “needs intervention” label given to the programs by federal officials.

Haley is also of the opinion that superintendents of education should be appointed instead of running for the office. She added that the candidates should be highly qualified and be able to share a common outlook with the governor. A measure to change the state constitution may be on the November ballot, but until 2018, voters will continue to choose superintendents.

“We are seeing schools that are in horrible condition,” Haley said. “We are seeing schools with leaky roofs. We are seeing walls that are molded. We’re seeing building structures that are not safe. And so we are saying: it is time to deal with the facilities of schools in our state.”

The governor is herself a product of a rural background and was educated in schools that had fewer resources than those in more affluent districts. Cynthia Roldan, reporting for The Post and Courier, writes that Haley said she cannot turn her back on the state’s poor and rural areas.