COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Wednesday, the Senate committee charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly about how to reopen the state and allocate emergency relief funds from the CARES Act and federal relief funds met to discuss reopening.
The Re-open South Carolina Select Committee heard from accelerateSC leaders as well as State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman.
Wednesday’s meeting centered on where the funds are needed most as South Carolina businesses, local governments, and communities work to get back on their feet. One of the main focuses of the committee is what Spearman called a potential education crisis the state is potentially facing.
“This COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to create an education crisis for a generation of our South Carolina students and I’m here today to ask you to help me, help us, make that not a reality,” Spearman said.
James Burns, the chairman of accelerateSC, told the Committee that accelerateSC recommends funding for starting schools five days early for K-8, providing meals for students throughout the summer, reimbursing the school districts for technology costs, and providing $47 million for a summer reading and math program for students that have fallen behind. The AccelerateED task force initially asked for $115 million for this summer program but lowered the ask to $50 million.
Spearman went through the structure of the summer program for the committee. It will be for about 49,000 students from kindergarten through third-grade who are no longer at grade level. The biggest costs are for hiring teachers, aides, nurses, counselors, transportation, meals.
Committee members agreed that funding for education is integral.
“This is a crisis. This is a crisis that is equal to or larger than the one we are facing in our business community and our focus has to be one getting these kids in front of teachers so they can be taught. Here’s what we know: I don’t care how good of a distance learning program you have. Only a small portion of the children are going to thrive and the vast majority are not and that’s what’s going on right now,” Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-District 27) said.
Spearman said there are nine districts that said their summer programs will be virtual, but she said for all other districts the goal is in-person learning.
“I was concerned this weekend when I found out this weekend that 10 districts said they would not do face to face… they would do a virtual program and you heard our conversation and virtual can be pretty good, but it’s not the same as in-person,” Spearman said.
Another big concern of the committee was the students that Spearman said districts haven’t heard from during virtual learning. She said the number tallies to around 40,000. Spearman said that the additional five days would be optional for districts, but senators on the committee expressed wanting to make it mandatory.
The AccelerateSC Governance and Resource committees also spoke before the committee about key challenges the state is facing in reopening. Burns emphasized that South Carolina has come a long way with contact tracing and testing, but there is still a need to rebuild confidence. Greenville Mayor Knox White, the chairman of the Governance Committee, spoke to the committee about creating uniform safety protocols and standards businesses must follow reopening.
The resources committee stressed the importance of funding going to an unemployment trust fund and expanding broadband access in rural areas across the state.
Burns said AccelerateSC will meet on Thursday to go over their final recommendations for safely reopening.