- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s Education Oversight Committee is evaluating the technological divide between school districts as the state moves to online end-of-year testing for every school, agency director Melanie Barton said Monday.

Just three school districts report having a computer, laptop or tablet available for every student. Those districts - Spartanburg 3, Spartanburg 7 and York 2 (Clover) - represent less than 4 percent of South Carolina’s 81 districts.

Barton’s agency plans to release results of a survey on districts’ technological capabilities later this month. Beginning in 2017, students must take high-stakes, end-of-year tests online.

To prepare, legislators committed last year to spending about $30 million annually for three years. Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year includes the second installment.

Newly elected state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman is requesting up to $350,000 of that in 2015-16 to hire employees who could travel around the state providing technological expertise. That’s particularly needed in rural areas that can’t afford to hire their own technology staff, she said.

“That would really help as we move to a more digital environment,” Spearman said.

The full, $90 million commitment - distributed based on districts’ poverty rating - is expected to bring all districts online, not buy every student a computer. Some districts have been able to use local property taxes to provide students with personal tablets. In 2011, Lexington 1 became the state’s first district to assign all high school students an iPad.

Without separate funding for devices, Barton said, “My greatest fear is, the divide will become even more pronounced.”

She said the technological inequities will play a big role in lawmakers’ discussions about the state Supreme Court’s ruling last fall that the state’s piecemeal education funding system denies opportunities to students in poor, rural districts. Her agency is assisting the study committee that House Speaker Jay Lucas appointed to come up with recommendations on fixing the system.

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