Haley touts education reform plan on Georgetown visit

— Gov. Nikki Haley said South Carolina must educate all of its children, regardless of where they live, as she explained parts of her K-12 Education Reform Initiative during a visit to Georgetown County Wednesday afternoon.

Haley spoke to the Rotary Club of Pawleys Island before touring Coastal Montessori Charter School, which is in its second year of operation under the Georgetown County School District.

The reform initiative alters the funding formula to provide more money for children in poverty, those learning English as a second language, gifted and talented students, and those aged 17 to 21 who are trying to pass the General Educational Development test. It also provides $30 million to put reading coaches in every elementary school, $29 million to improve technology and Internet capabilities in schools, and more support for charter and virtual schools.

Haley’s plan has passed the House and now is with the Senate. Haley told the Rotarians, “That’s where we get nervous – they tend to rewrite things.”

Haley illustrated the need to boost technology with a story about her school in her hometown of Bamberg. She said her daughter attends the new River Bluff High School in Lexington, which has a 72-inch TV and a tablet for every student, but when she visited her former school, there wasn’t the necessary equipment for her to show a video.

“That’s immoral. That’s wrong,” said Haley, adding that teachers not only need technology, but they need professional development to know how to use it.

Making sure children can read by the third grade is another priority for Haley, whose initiative proposes a third-grade retention policy. Some critics say interventions are key for children who can’t read by the third grade, but that holding them back a grade harms children socially, to which Haley disagrees.

“If you’ve got a kid who can’t read, you’ve already harmed them socially,” she said.

Haley told students she loved their school and spent time with first- through third-grade students in their classroom before addressing a school assembly, which included some parents. She was introduced by Georgetown County’s Superintendent Randy Dozier, who gave a thumbs-up to the governor’s plan.

“This is one thing that’s close to my heart,” Dozier said of Haley’s reform initiative. “It was a real surprise to see a plan where Georgetown County sees some benefit.”

Haley had only glowing words for the Montessori school, which serves about 160 students in a wing of Waccamaw Middle School, and commended it and the district for how well they work together. She said the state’s charter schools are up in enrollment this year by 27 percent and that 63 percent of their students are in poverty. Charter schools offer other options, she said, and her support of them are not a slight to public schools.

“This is not about picking sides, it’s about how do you strengthen all of education,” Haley said. “The state’s charter schools are proven to help kids in poverty, and if this works for them, we want to pick them up – it’s just a different way of learning.”

Haley said some charter schools are shining with great results, but those that are not producing the right results will fall by the wayside.

The governor reiterated her dislike of the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by 44 states, including South Carolina. The state adopted Common Core in 2010, with standards to be fully implemented in schools next year, but the Legislature is debating the issue.

“I’m pushing for a strong repeal,” Haley said. “We want state standards, and to generalize never works for anybody. When you go national, you dumb down.”

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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