30 Mar South Carolina School Leaders Hope House Plan Holds (SC)March 30, 2011
By: Seanna AdcoxSource: Lake Wylie Pilot
COLUMBIA, S.C. — After years of cutbacks amid the recession, South Carolina’s five public residential schools for talented, troubled and hearing- and visually-impaired students are poised to get more money in the state budget.
House budget-writers’ $5.2 billion budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, up for debate this week on the House floor, specifies the schools must use that money to bring enrollment back to capacity. And that’s a mandate school leaders welcome.
"This is terrific!" said John Warner, vice president of the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville.
The high school for artistically-talented students can hold 242 students, but is down to 202 this year, a result of state funding shrinking to $5.3 million from $7.2 million. The House plan for 2011-12 would bring it up to $6.8 million.
The state’s other special schools are the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School, John de la Howe School and the School for the Deaf and the Blind. Because they get no money from local property taxes, and must provide around-the-clock care, state budget cuts have hit them especially hard.
The House plan used about $100 million in reserves to prevent further cuts to the state’s traditional public schools.
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said budget writers also wanted to fill the state’s residential schools to impact as many lives as possible.
&# x0A;It’s relatively little money, and "the benefits for those students are astronomical," said Bingham, who leads the panel that writes the K-12 education budget. "If you’re talented enough to be at the Governor’s School for the Arts, and you aren’t there because we’ve cut funding, that’s a waste of what we should be doing. It’s an incredible opportunity to showcase their talent and develop them into world-class artists."
Likewise, he said, the high school in Hartsville for academically talented students helps make South Carolina a better place by "developing the state’s best and brightest and keeping them here." His twin daughters are among its graduates.
The schools for troubled teens steer them to a diploma and a job, rather than prison, Bingham said. Kicking unruly teens out of school, with no place to go but the street corner, ends up costing taxpayers, said the former school board member.
"It helps society as a whole," he said. "We decided we’re going to fund these schools."
At Wil Lou Gray in West Columbia, 16- to 19-year-olds who are far below grade level and often lack parental support are able to get their GED in a 14-week, military-like program. But they’re currently at half-capacity, enrolling 100 students in each tri-mester. The House plan boosts its funding by $2.3 million to $4.8 million – or about $1 million more than it received before the recession.
"We were as shocked as elated as anybody. We were fully expecting reductions like everybody else," said Director Pat Smith, who applauded House members for "doing a marvelous job figuring out the state’s needs. We can serve more kids. … We motivate them to be better citizens."< ;br />
John de la Howe, nestled amid a forest in McCormick County, provides at-risk 12- to 17-year-olds intense behavioral and academic help, as well as family counseling, before returning them to their home school. It has room for 120 students but can handle fewer than half that now, at a time when the economy is driving up juvenile delinquency. The budget plan would bring funding from $2.8 million to $4.2 million – 80 percent of where it was, said superintendent Thomas Mayer, adding he’s thrilled by the amount.
"We are that stop-gap measure, the ounce of prevention versus a pound of cure, to keep kids from ending up in juvenile detention and the Department of Corrections, where it becomes much more costly to address behavioral issues," he said.
The School for the Deaf and Blind could house up to 350 students at its Spartanburg campus, but currently has 290. It also serves 1,400 others through outreach programs across the state. The House plan would restore $1.8 million of the $4 million it’s lost in the recession. The school hopes to offer new services to parents of deaf and blind students.
It would also use the money would help the school continue to provide services that would otherwise be cut because of slashes to the budget elsewhere. Many students receive services funded by Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled, said Maggie Park, the school’s president.