- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

May 4

Island Packet, Hilton Head, South Carolina, on governor’s education reform:

Funding inequity among South Carolina’s school districts has been debated for years by educators, lawmakers and parents. Should anything be done to correct it, they have asked? And if so, how should the state reform its decades-old funding formula to more fairly distribute state money?

Poor, rural districts, fed up with the talk but no action, sued over the issue 20 years ago. They still haven’t gotten an answer. The lawsuit is still pending before the South Carolina Supreme Court.

It is in this vein that we applaud Gov. Nikki Haley’s education reform initiative that actually acts on the problem. It makes a significant change in the way the state distributes one of its main pots of education money, targeting more dollars for students who cost more to educate. That includes poor students; gifted students; students whose native language is not English, students with disabilities and students who struggle with reading.

The plan is not a panacea for the state’s education problems. For example, some of the state’s most impoverished school districts, including Allendale County, already spend a great deal of money per student but still routinely post low standardized test scores. The plan doesn’t address the underlying issues that are causing that problem.

The proposal also won’t help poor districts replace deteriorating school buildings with new ones. It’s won’t convince our best teachers to move to and teach in our most challenged schools. And it doesn’t alleviate the oppressive poverty and lack of parental support that makes it so difficult for many of our students to succeed.

But Haley’s plan certainly is an initial step in the right direction, funneling more dollars to specific groups of students that research shows cost more to educate — and doing so without regard to where in the state the student lives. The governor deserves praise for attempting to do something about an issue that has plagued our state for decades.

Still, the plan is a tough pill to swallow for the state’s wealthier districts, including the Beaufort County School District. The district stands to lose nearly $700,000 next fiscal year because it has fewer of these subgroups of students than most other districts. The $700,000 would be redirected to the needy districts, according to the House’s budget proposal. Fewer than 10 districts stand to lose money under the spending plan, including Charleston County that could see a decrease of more than $3 million and York District 4 that could lose about $1 million, according to the state Department of Education. The rest of the districts would receive funding boosts.

While we believe that, long term, it is appropriate for Beaufort County and the state’s other wealthier districts to receive fewer EIA state dollars, we do not think it’s fair or smart to do it this late in the fiscal year. These districts are already deep into planning their budgets and would have to start over.

And in Beaufort County’s case, the district anticipates needing as much as a $10 million more, a 5 percent increase, from Beaufort County in the fiscal year that beings July 1. Adding a $700,000 state hit would surely hurt the district’s plans of putting a tablet in the hands of every student in grades three through 12 by the end of next school year and converting all of it half-day prekindergarten classes into full-day classes.

We agree and applaud efforts by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to hold the wealthier districts harmless for a year or two, giving them time to adjust to the new fiscal reality.

To this end, Davis and others received assurances last week from the House, the governor’s office and the Senate’s Finance Committee on which Davis serves that whatever dollar figure is needed to hold the wealthier districts harmless next fiscal year will be budgeted. That will ensure the funding blow caused by Haley’s funding reform won’t wreak havoc on the districts’ budgets or derail their plans. And it gives them crucial planning time to prepare for the hit when it eventually comes.

We hope the districts use the time wisely to prepare for fewer state dollars in future years.




May 5

The Herald, Rock Hill, South Carolina, on increasing graduation rate:

New data indicates that the U.S. high school graduation rate has reached more than 80 percent, the highest graduation rate in history. While that is a significant triumph, the nation needs to keep its focus on the nearly 20 percent who walk away without a diploma.

Data released last week by the Education Department showed that 80 percent of the class of 2012 graduated on time that year. While that represents significant gains in reducing dropouts, educators hope to continue to increase graduation rates in the years ahead.

Based on progress over the past decade, researchers hope the nation will reach a 90 percent national graduation rate by 2020. Some states, including Iowa, Vermont, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Texas already are approaching the 90 percent threshold with graduation rates at 88 or 89 percent. But others, such as Alaska, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon and Nevada, were at the low end of the spectrum with rates at 70 percent or lower.

South Carolina, with an overall graduation rate of 75 percent and a rate of 68 percent for those who receive free or reduced-price lunches, also was at the lower end of the scale. These states need to pore over the data, learn what other states are doing right and emulate those programs.

Graduation rates for African-American students - 68 percent - and for Hispanic students - 76 percent - remain below the national average. But the good news is that rates increased 15 percentage points for Hispanic students and 9 percentage points for African-American students from 2002 to 2012.

Those improvements, in fact, were largely responsible for the overall increase nationwide.

While some might assume that a higher number of low-income students would drag down a state’s graduation rate, that was not necessarily the case. Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, for example, have more than half of all students counted as low income, but their overall rates are above average.

In contrast, Minnesota, Wyoming and Alaska have a smaller percentage of low-income students but also lower than average graduation rates.

Methods that seem to improve graduation rates for all students include early intervention with teenagers in danger of dropping out - one on one if necessary - to keep them in class. Experts also tout the success of closing schools that graduate less than 60 percent of students.

This survey showed that there were 32 percent fewer of the so-called “dropout factories” in 2012 than a decade earlier. Also while 46 percent of African-American students had attended those schools in 2002, the number had dropped to about 25 percent in 2012. With Hispanic students, the number dropped from 39 percent to about 15 percent.

It is estimated that nationwide 648 “dropout factory” high schools were closed during the decade. That meant that nearly 1 million children who would have gone there were educated at better schools instead.

The reason we are able to compare the different rates of each state - apples to apples - is because in 2008, the Bush administration ordered all states to conform to the same method of calculating the number of graduates instead of using wildly varying techniques to track students. Under the required system, the number of graduates in a given year is divided by the number of students who enrolled four years earlier. Adjustments are made for transfer students.

It’s that simple. But it provides states with a valid comparison of which are successfully increasing graduation rates and which aren’t.

This study - plus what states already know from their own experience - offers a good picture of what it takes to keep students in school. We hope South Carolina can successfully apply those lessons to raise its rates.

And we can’t afford to stop there. Most students will need more than a high school diploma in the increasingly competitive marketplace to make a living.

Raising the graduation rate to 90 percent and more is just one more step toward creating a well-educated populace.




May 3

The Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on possibly raising for state lawmakers:

The state Senate Finance Committee has endorsed a plan to give legislators another $12,000 a year - and by the backdoor to boot.

You have to wonder how many taxpayers would endorse that kind of pay hike. Are our lawmakers really doing that good of a job?

Currently, legislators are paid a salary of $10,400 a year, plus $12,000 for something called in-district expenses, an allocation that was approved years ago as a backdoor pay hike. And they’re at it again, with a plan to double that amount.

Legislators also get a per diem of $131 when they are in session, mileage compensation on official business, and are members of a gold-plated retirement system.

It’s not all that bad for a job that the state Constitution envisions lasting only 40 days a year. That would put the session ending sometime in March, even with the short work week.

But you can hardly get lawmakers to go home before June.

What is the attraction of staying in Columbia? Maybe it has something to do with being treated like big shots when the Legislature is in session.

So far, the big splash of the legislative year has been the creation of the Department of Administration, a new Cabinet agency that will take over many of the duties of the state Budget and Control Board.

Even though that needed reform already had been discussed for years, it was still a surprise that legislators finally managed to approve a bill in the early part of the session.

The other big issue pending is ethics reform, and so far the outlook isn’t promising. The Senate passed a bill that mainly would require additional income disclosure, but not much else and not enough of that. Certainly, it wouldn’t provide for independent investigation or adjudication of ethics complaints against legislators - as is required for every other elected official in the state.

We recognize that legislative pay has remained static for a number of years, but lawmakers who support this idea should be willing to stand up and tell the taxpayers just why they deserve such a big hike.

After all, taxpayers would pay for the increase.

And the fact that on Wednesday the committee recommended a cut in state allocations to counties to provide for it could mean that they pay for it twice. Presumably, the counties would look to local taxpayers to make up that $2 million loss in revenue.

But the largest fear of increasing pay for lawmakers is that it is another step to a full-time Legislature.

Actually, the General Assembly should be moving the other way, to a shorter session.



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