Summer camp for struggling readers part of SC Senate budget plan

jself@thestate.comMay 8, 2013 

— About 3,000 struggling third-grade readers would be invited to attend reading camps next summer if state legislators approve a Senate budget proposal.

Senate budget writers included $1.5 million in the state’s budget, which starts July 1, to pay for camps for the state’s lowest-performing third-grade readers.

The reading camps are a key provision of a bill, sponsored by state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, that would require third-graders reading below grade level to be held back for a year of reading-intensive instruction if their reading does not improve after attending a summer camp.

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday advanced Peeler’s bill, called the Read to Succeed Act, and another bill, sponsored by state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, that would expand to statewide full-day kindergarten for at-risk 4-year-olds.

Neither bill is expected to pass this year, the first year of the Legislature’s two-year session. The bills now go to the Senate floor for debate. If the Senate passes them, they would go to the House for consideration. However, that could be next year.

To jump-start both programs, Senate budget writers have included money in next year’s budget: $1.5 million for the summer camps and $26 million to start expanding the state’s full-day 4K program for at-risk students. (That program currently is available in 36 school districts at a cost of about $20 million to the state. School districts also pitch in about $10 million.)

Sheheen’s proposal to expand 4-year-old kindergarten statewide would cost the state between $87 million and $121 million more than it now spends. The range of cost depends on the number of eligible children whose parents choose to enroll them.

To offer the summer camps, school districts would be encouraged to partner with libraries, faith-based organizations and other groups that have space and tutors.

The $1.5 million that Senate budget writers have designated for the summer reading program should cover the cost of about 3,000 children attending camps in 2014. That is the number of students expected to score the lowest on a statewide reading test at the end of third-grade, said Melanie Barton, director of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee.

The S.C. Department of Education would get about $300,000 to help pay the cost of transporting the children to the camps, Barton said.

A House education panel is scheduled to take up a bill similar to Peeler’s proposal next week.

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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