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McMaster signs bill to help improve South Carolina student reading

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(The Center Square) — Gov. Henry McMaster signed a measure to help ensure students read at their appropriate grade levels.

S. 418 builds on the Read to Succeed measure lawmakers passed a decade ago and requires the South Carolina Department of Education to implement a “scientifically based reading instruction” approach to reading education. The program includes professional development, administering universal screeners and summer reading camps.

“If you can’t read and read well, you’ll be limited,” McMaster, a Republican, told students at Aiken’s JD Lever Elementary School during a bill signing ceremony. “…This is going to be your world, and in order for you to fully appreciate it and make it a better place, you must read.”

According to a South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office fiscal estimate, the SCDE previously indicated that the bill could increase the department’s General Fund expenses by roughly $50 million annually. However, the exact amount depends on the number of teachers who need professional development and the number of students who attend summer reading camps.

SCDE estimates that expanding summer reading camp participants to include first through third-grade students with reading scores below expectations or at the lowest achievement level on South Carolina’s summative reading assessment will increase expenses by roughly $44.7 million annually once fully implemented. However, the fiscal note indicated that “SCDE expects the additional funding required to support summer reading camp participation to decrease over time.”

Professional development courses could cost more than $4.3 million annually starting in fiscal 2025-26, the estimate indicated.

“We are not born with a natural ability to read, but a person’s ability to read is critical for educational and lifelong success,” Miranda Williams, a ExcelinEd in Action representative, said during a signing ceremony this week. “A strong evidence-based reading program that begins in kindergarten and continues into third grade and beyond gives students the best possible chance to maximize their education and excel in reading.

“…We are not only signing a piece of legislation; we are laying a strong foundation for a brighter future for the children of South Carolina,” Williams added. “As we move forward, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to promoting literacy excellence for all students. Let us continue to champion evidence-based policies that empower educators, engage families and uplift communities, and let us never lose sight of the transformative power of education to change lives and shape futures.”

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