Education Groups Ask State Panel for More Money

October 23, 2012

Investigative Reports

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Money HandsA panel of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee on Monday heard funding proposals from 11 educational organizations aimed at improving lackluster student performance in the state’s public K-12 school districts.

Some of the proposals brought before the EIA (Education Improvement Act) and Improvement Mechanisms Subcommittee would come at little to no cost to the state, while others would require substantial increases in funding.

Any additional funding to the organizations for fiscal 2013-14, which starts July 1, would be covered with 1 cent of the 6-cent state sales tax earmarked under the Education Improvement Act for certain educational programs.

For instance, South Carolina’s chapter of Teach For America (TFA), a nonprofit organization that enlists recent college graduates and professionals to teach in under-performing schools for two or more years, requested a $1 million increase on top of the $2 million that state lawmakers appropriated for the current fiscal year.

The Nerve in June reported that the Legislature for the first time was poised to provide state sales-tax revenue to the New York-based organization.

Supporters say the group places teachers mainly in poor rural and urban schools that have a hard time attracting qualified educators. Critics contend that most Teach for America teachers don’t have education backgrounds, and most don’t stick with their initial schools after their two-year contracts expire.

Josh Bell, executive director of TFA’s state chapter, thanked the Education Oversight Committee for its “continuing support.” He said several principals have issued the organization glowing reviews and asked for more teachers.

Asked by state Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland and a subcommittee member, whether Teach For America has reached some of the more rural districts, Bell replied, “In some cases where we haven’t been able to bring those teachers, it’s simply a matter that we don’t have either the funding to bring more or just weren’t able to get them in time.”

By fall 2013, Bell said he expects to bring 125 teachers to join the 110 teachers already in classrooms statewide. He said state funding would go toward meeting the $40,000 investment per teacher from the time the organization recruits them until the time they end their commitment in the classroom.

Critics of the program said besides paying the TFA teachers’ annual salaries, school districts typically are charged a $4,000 per-placement fee by the organization.

Other groups making pitches Monday before the seven-member EOC subcommittee included the Science PLUS Institute in Greenville, which has received $150,000 annually in base state funding. The center brings teachers from across the state together for a week-long workshop on science teaching methods.

The organization is requesting an additional $50,000 to allow an average of 46 more teachers to attend the workshop. Last year, 111 teachers attended the workshop compared to 96 this year.

A teacher-recruitment organization in Rock Hill known as the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) requested a $400,000 funding increase. Its two main initiatives are the Teacher Cadet and Teaching Fellows programs.

Executive Director Jane Turner said her organization has not been able to “fully fund the intended number of Teaching Fellows in the last three, four years.”

The full Education Oversight Committee will hold its next meeting on Nov. 19. Neal recommended that the committee evaluate fiscal 2014 funding proposals “in light of what it would cost the state.”

“There is a tremendous difference in funding for successful and failing districts,” he said. “Some states have managed to equalize funding for their schools. We have not reached that as a state politically.”

“That said, there may be ways to improve our school systems without infusing a whole lot of money,” Neal continued, provided that those programs are shown to be effective.

Ultimately, he said, “Let’s go with what works.”

Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or kelli@thenerve.org.