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Friday, February 4, 2011

Legislative Update From The Kershaw County School Superintendent

                In reading the various media reports coming out about the General Assembly, it can be extremely difficult to understand the full effect of what is being debated and ultimately decided.  Unfortunately, legislation is often written in such a way that its real impact is lost on someone who doesn’t deal with legislation all the time.  In this particular year, when decisions made to cut the state budget will have profound impact, it is more important than ever for citizens to understand what lawmakers and others are proposing. 
                For example, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais has proposed a number of cuts that on the surface seem fairly benign.  He proposes that technical assistance funds be cut by 50 percent.  What are technical assistance funds?  These are funds that provide additional help in reading and math for students who are struggling in these areas but that might not be very clear to most people.  I can tell you that the services these funds provide have been critical to all of our elementary schools achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) last year.  Dr. Zais has also proposed suspending the state’s technology partnership with school districts.  At first look, this doesn’t seem like a big thing.  However, these funds enable school districts to have adequate bandwidth so that schools can access the Internet with reasonable speed.  In the absence of this funding, access to the Internet in schools could become too slow to be productive for students accessing the latest information for a project or for teachers who might be using the Web to access online resources for classroom lessons.       
                Budget legislation is extremely hard to understand because our state’s funding structure for K-12 education is at best, a confusing and often contradictory patchwork.  Budget legislation currently under consideration by the House of Representatives, for example, would eliminate funding for mandated assistants in kindergarten.  The language that specifies this, however, describes a reduction in weighting for funding of kindergarten students from 1.3 to 1.0, which wouldn’t mean much to the average person.  But teachers and parents would certainly agree assistants are tremendously important to kindergarten classrooms.
                While not directly related to school funding, elimination of state support for ETV will have extremely negative consequences that might not be evident at first glance.  ETV isn’t just “Masterpiece Theatre” or “Antiques Roadshow.”  ETV provides many very essential services to schools.  For example, teachers and students have access to high quality instructional videos online through ETV’s Website  So far this school year, almost 25,000 educational videos have been accessed by Kershaw County teachers alone.  ETV also produces and provides a variety of exceptional research Websites through in addition to providing teachers with free professional development and affordable online recertification courses.  ETV also provides equipment and technical support that allow our schools to create their own school news programs.  These services would likely be lost if ETV funding is eliminated.
                It is of the utmost importance that the consequences of what is being considered by the General Assembly be clearly understood by the public.  It will be too late in August to ask why programs and services that are valued by students, parents and teachers are no longer available.

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