South Carolina Panels Agree on Five-Year Reform Plan

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Two committees studying South Carolina's education system have reached an agreement on the major points of a five-year reform package that includes an array of new programs ranging from remedial education to teacher improvement. In its first year, the plan would increase state spending on education by about 25 percent.

The two committees were appointed this summer by Gov. Richard W. Riley and Superintendent of Education Charlie G. Williams to develop a legislative agenda and cost estimates for the "Move to Quality," a 41-point plan proposed by Mr. Williams. The committees will complete their final report by next week.

The package would cost the state $200 million in the first year, in addition to an expected increase in the $799-million state education budget to cover increased costs of current programs. The package would cost $282 million by the fifth year.

South Carolina ranks low nationally on major indicators of educational strength. Its high-school students who took the most recent Scholastic Aptitude Test ranked 50th in the nation, with average verbal and mathematics scores of 383 and 415, respectively. The state ranks 39th in per-pupil expenditures ($1,937) and 43rd in the number of high-school students who graduate (65.1 percent), according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Education Leaders

The two committees that developed the new reform package include leaders of the education and finance committees of both legislative chambers as well as executives from many of the state's leading businesses and the two major teachers' unions.

The committees, which the Governor wanted to represent as broad a spectrum of public and business opinion as possible, were asked to work together in part to compare findings and resolve differences.

A recent survey conducted by the state Senate's education committee found widespread support among teachers and administrators for many of the reforms proposed by the two committees, such as increased spending for early education, increased teacher salaries, state-supported remedial education, and merit pay for teachers and school administrators.

The legislature this year considered elements of Mr. Williams's plan, but the body spent most of its last session dealing with other tax and spending issues to eliminate an $80-million deficit in the state budget. The earlier education plan did not contain the financial details of the current proposal.

South Carolina education officials said the involvement of legislative and business leaders in the latest reform effort should help the package's chances in the 1984 session. But they also warned that interest in reducing property-tax rates and diverting some new state funds to higher education could dilute the plan's appeal.

"Without [the business leaders represented on the panels], this thing would be lost," said Henry G. Hollingsworth, deputy state superintendent for finance and operations. "The big job is going to be overcom-ing the forces that would nibble into it."

Terry Peterson, the education director for Governor Riley, said the major conflict in the committees concerned the relative emphasis to be placed on programs for students with poor academic backgrounds and students with great academic potential. The committees resolved the "excellence-versus-equity" conflict by significantly boosting funding for programs in both areas, with gradual reductions in funds for remedial programs and increases in funds for school-improvement awards.

Remedial programs, now costing the state $1 million in support for several pilot projects, would cost $59 million in the 1984-85 school year and $49 million by the program's fifth year. The smaller fifth-year cost, the planners say, reflects the anticipated success of overall improvement efforts in diminishing the need for remediation.

The school-improvement awards would cost $7 million during 1985-86, the first year of operation, and $28 million by the fifth year.

To receive an award, a school must show improvement in four of five areas--student achievement in basic skills, teacher attendance, student attendance, and family participation in the schools. Schools would receive $40 to $50 per student as an award.

Other aspects of the plan would address several teacher issues, including salaries, rewards for good performance, recruitment of teachers in areas of shortage, and training.

In the first year of the program, the state would provide $62 million to bring the salaries and fringe benefits of teachers in line with the average in other Southeastern states. South Carolina teachers now receive an average salary of $17,200; the average salary for teachers in the region is expected to be $20,200 next year, according to statistics compiled by the two committees.

Pilot Projects

The state also would establish 10 pilot projects in 1984-85 and 1985-86 to test merit pay for teachers. After those programs are evaluated, all districts in the state would be required to adopt one of three merit-pay plans. The cost of the program would be $22 million in the first year.

The state would also continue its "forgivable-loan" program for prospective teachers in areas of critical need; stiffen accreditation requirements for colleges of education; allow some people to teach without at-tending a school of education; and offer small grants for teacher-initiated projects in curriculum development.

The other major areas to be affected by the committees' proposal include:

Capital improvements. In one of the most expensive components of the package, the state would provide one-third of the cost of plant improvements and would make grants to school districts that have already made such improvements. The cost of the program would be $50 million in the first year; that amount would be reduced gradually to $35 million by the fifth year.

After five years, the state would increase its per-pupil subsidy to local districts for capital repairs from 30 to 80 cents.

School leadership. Candidates for principalships would be screened by the existing South Carolina Leadership Academy according to standards of effective schooling devised by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The state also would spend a gradually increasing amount of money--$2.5 million by the fifth year--to offer bonuses to effective principals.

Vocational education. The state would spend $8 million annually to gear programs to high technology and other expanding occupational fields, such as health care. Vocational-education students also would be urged to attend school for an extra year at the secondary level.

Early-childhood education. The state would spend $14 million by the fifth year to create preschool programs in districts where 1st-grade students perform poorly on "readiness skills" tests. That program would involve between 10,000 and 12,000 children.

All 5-year-old children would be required to attend kindergarten, and the state would pay for new kindergartens. According to the education department, more than 90 percent of the children who do not attend kindergarten fail to meet the state's readiness standards.

Testing. All students would be required to take exit tests in all basic subjects. Science would be listed as a basic subject for the first time.

Gifted and talented education. The state would spend $4.5 million in the first year and $11 million by the fifth year to expand advanced-placement courses and create new programs for gifted and talented students.

Education of handicapped students. Depending on the results of a pilot project now under way in four districts near Columbia, the state would establish a new policy for disruptive students. The state also would expand programs for the "trainable mentally handicapped." The cost of the two programs would be $1 million in the first year and $13 million in the fifth year.

"Time on task." The education department would spend $1.3 million in 1984-85 to establish teacher workshops for better classroom management. The department also would urge schools to eliminate any interruption of classes except for emergencies.

Discipline. The state would require all schools to devise a consistent set of rules for student behavior and specify the consequences for students who break those rules.

Academic standards. All high schools would be required to offer a college-preparatory program. The number of credits required for graduation would rise from 18 to 20, with a minimum of three years of mathematics and two years of science.

Partnerships. Businesses would be encouraged to "adopt" schools, and schools would be asked to encourage parental involvement in school affairs.

Vol. 03, Issue 10

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