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Education: Federal waiver will save district on transportation costs

By Charles R. Swenson
Coastal Observer

The waiver that South Carolina received last month from the federal education law will save the Georgetown County School District from spending thousands of dollars a year to bus students who want to leave schools that were labeled as under-performing.

Students from five rural schools were allowed to transfer because those schools didn’t meet “adequate yearly progress” under the No Child Left Behind act. The law required the school district to pay for transportation.

Superintendent Randy Dozier said those schools will meet the standard for progress South Carolina will use under the waiver. The state Department of Education will announce the latest test results today that are used to measure that progress.

“You could still have some choice options, but we would not provide transportation,” Dozier said.

The district bought 20 buses to transport students from the so-called “choice schools” – Andrews Elementary, McDonald Elementary, Rosemary Middle, Andrews High and Carvers Bay High – and for students whose transfers would help the district meet a court-ordered goal of maintaining the same racial balance in its schools as exists in the county as a whole.

The district will still have to provide transportation for race-based transfers, but Dozier estimates it can save about $100,000 a year on transportation for choice students. That includes drivers, gas and maintenance. It will also save if it can phase out the buses it bought rather than replace them. “It is very expensive,” he said.

Waccamaw High had 37 students from the Andrews and Carvers Bay attendance areas last year. Waccamaw Middle had 13 students from Rosemary, which is in Andrews.

Students who already signed up for the choice option will still get transportation this year, Dozier said. Those who apply after the new progress reports are announced, won’t be able to count on transportation from the district.

No Child Left Behind passed in 2001 with the goal of every student being “proficient” in English and math by 2014. Schools and districts had to show adequate yearly progress toward that goal, and those who didn’t meet AYP standards, which got tougher every three years, faced sanctions.

Last year, only one district in the state met AYP, and without the waiver none would meet it in 2014, according to the state Department of Education. The federal law also created paradoxes such as Waccamaw High, which was rated “excellent” in performance and growth, but missed four of 17 criteria for adequate yearly progress under the federal law.

Under the waiver, the state will use letter grades to indicate how well schools and districts meet proficiency goals rather than the current pass-fail system. The system will allow people to compare performance between schools and between districts. In its waiver request, the state Department of Education said the new measures will improve accountability and provide the public with a more useful evaluation of its schools.

And Dozier pointed out that the change from the federal pass-fail AYP standard isn’t the only reason the district is seeing improvement. “We also had a good year for test scores,” he said.

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