More than $200 million needed for education programs, task force discusses student learning

VIDEO: More than $200 million needed for education programs, task force discusses student learning

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Education leaders from across South Carolina met for the second time Tuesday morning to talk about how best to proceed with summer learning activities and how schools and districts can best restart in the fall.

AccelerateED is a task force created by Superintendent Molly Spearman comprised of educators and administrators representing all aspects of the K-12 public education system that is charged with studying barriers to school operations and student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, Spearman asked the AccelerateED Task Force to come up with recommendations in terms of education over the summer and for when the new school year starts in August.

AccelerateED is made up of three subcommittees:

  • Building and Student Services
  • Instruction
  • Operations

Each subcommittee has met at least one time since the first meeting of the full task force last Thursday.

Building and Student Services:

Alan Walters, a part of the Building and Student Services Subcommittee, said they’ve been discussing different recommendations when it comes to the extended summer program. But, until they have more guidelines, their recommendation might be out of date.

“Certainly those methods would include, ideally, face-to-face learning but there could also be virtual delivery and paper packets or some combination of those,” Walters said.

Spearman said the Department of Health and Environmental Control is working on a final protocol they will be following when school opens. She anticipates to have those guidelines within the next day or so.

Interests to districts were the immediate costs of cleaning, according to Walters.

“That has to be done ASAP before any sort of activities can take place,” Walters said.

Spearman said the S.C. Department of Education sent out a survey Tuesday night to districts asking them to disclose their anticipated implementation of sanitizing and cleaning they’re going to have to do for COVID-19. Spearman has requested that information back by Thursday.

Instruction:

“One huge consensus point was the need for any recommendations, out of our subcommittee, to be a menu of proposals that provide districts with flexibility based on local needs and local available resources,” Patrick Kelly, with the Instruction Subcommittee, said.

According to reports from districts across South Carolina, there are approximately 150,000 households that have students without internet access. Spearman said the sense of the AccelerateSC team was moving toward recommending a large amount of the $1.9 billion, in state funding, be spent to expand broadband capabilities across South Carolina.

Spearman said districts also estimate they will need approximately 160,000 additional devices in order to have students well-equipped for distance learning.

“There is an additional technology grant that we have learned about that we’re applying for,” Spearman said. “Hopefully it will help us expand our virtual offerings in the state.”

Dr. David Mathis gave an update about lesson plans being developed right now. By the first of June, the Division of College and Career Readiness will have compiled 20 lesson plans in ELA and Math that districts can use.

“We are working with VirtualSC to deliver those lessons,” Mathis said. “The districts could take those lessons and use them as is or take them and modify them.”

Kelly added their subcommittee needs to find way to meaningfully diagnose a student’s learning.

“That way we can align instruction during summer enrichment specifically to what students don’t know as opposed to just focusing on what we think they should know.”

Operations:

As of right now, when schools start back, the ratio of teacher to students would probably be 12 to 1 in a classroom to allow for social distancing. That’s according to Scott Turner, who’s a part of the Operations Subcommittee.

One of the biggest challenges, he said, is the bus situation.

“Social distancing on a bus, let’s just say it’s not going to be easy.”

Turner said they were looking at two scenarios for a 77-passenger bus.

“If you do the social distancing with six feet, a 77-passenger bus would only hold 13 students,” Turner said. “If you do the social distancing with five feet, that would allow 26 students on a 77-passenger bus.”

But Spearman said she’s not sure the state is going to be able to operate on that tight of a bus setting.

“There are some new guidelines coming out from the public transit associations that relax some of the square footage required,” Spearman said. “I don’t think we need to decide what we’re going to be able to do until we get that guidance.”

“We have to come up with a plan that will give parents the confidence that their child is going to be as safe as possible and our employees the confidence that they will be as safe as possible when we come back,” Spearman said. “If we can come up with a plan that is reasonable, safe and looking to build that confidence for that classroom unit and bus unit – that’s going to be our goal.”

Funding:

In an AcclerateSC meeting last week, Spearman laid out some of the initial funding the Department of Education is looking at.

She asked for funding for six additional instructional days. It would cost $30 million each day, so she said that would cost about $180 million. She also talked about the need for about $50 million for the extended summer school.

“We know there is a great need for students, third grade and down, who are struggling and who teachers have observed and feel they need to come in for the summer reading and math experience,” Spearman said.

South Carolina will be receiving $216,311,158 in ESSER funds from the CARES Act, of which 90%, $194,680,042, will flow through to school districts with amounts determined in proportion to the amount of Title I, Part A funds they received in Summer 2019 from funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This document shows how much CARES Act funding each S.C. district with receive.

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