More than 9,000 of the state’s nearly 54,000 third graders aren’t at grade level for English Language Arts, according to 2013 data reported by the state Department of Education. Known as the South Carolina Read to Succeed Act, a bill up for debate this week in the Senate aims to change that.
On Thursday the bill’s sponsor—Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney—called the bill the most significant piece of legislation dealing with education and economic development in two decades. The Senate did not advance the bill last week.
Experts nationwide see a correlation between the high school drop out rate and students who can’t read at grade level by the third grade. “That’s why there is such a focus on literacy right now,” wrote Anna Burns, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, in an email Monday.
The reading bill would hold back third graders who aren’t reading at grade level to make sure students get caught up with their grade. It also provides for supplemental instruction to students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade with reading coaches, book clubs and summer reading camps. Teachers supplying this supplemental instruction would be expected to have a literacy coach add-on—a type of professional development credit.
But some senators worry piling more requirements on teachers would bog down education. “We’re not letting our teachers teach,” said Sen. Shane Martin last Wednesday on the Senate floor. The Pauline Republican’s mother was a public school teacher.
Already it costs approximately $11,000 dollars to educate each South Carolina student. That funding—based on 2011-2012 school year data—comes from the federal, state and local levels. Base student cost—the figure in the education funding formula that is projected as “adequately” funding education—was $1,880 for that same school year.
Burns wrote that many schools in poorer districts are among the highest performing schools in the state. “Funding is not the problem, the issue is having the right administrators and teachers in the school.”
The state Superintendent of Education, Dr. Mick Zais supports the reading bill with its focus on intensive reading instruction and summer reading camps.
Included in the bill is a fiscal impact statement, which estimates the cost of reading camps to be from $325 to $400 per student based on the cost of similar camps in Florida.
Literacy add-on certifications for early childhood education, elementary education and special education teachers would also be required. According to the statement, teachers and administrators would pay the cost of individual teachers’ coursework—nearly $5,000.
Included in Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget is a $29.5 million provision for reading coaches in every state public elementary school. The House budget provides $30 million for reading coaches and $4.5 million for summer reading programs.
Two similar reading bills are before the state House.