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Constituent Update

Education Continues to Dominate Senate Schedule 

This edition is a little longer than most, but there's a lot to cover. Particularly as it relates to the lengthy fight to continue improving education for all children, parents, teachers, and administrators in South Carolina! Despite eight weeks of delay designed to preserve the status quo, the Senate was able to pass an education reform proposal that addresses many of state’s most critical needs in education.

I don't pretend that this bill solves every problem. There are things I would have liked to see included that were not, and others I would have preferred not be a part of the final version. But rarely is legislation perfect, and the good, far outweighed any reason not to pass reforms at all.

I have listed many of the components of the reform bill below. But before we get to them, I would like to focus on a few areas that I believe are very meaningful to student performance.

First, districts will no longer be limited in their development of Schools of Innovation. In short, where regulatory obstacles exist, districts may apply for a waiver of those regulations and create a public school of innovation. Are there better ways to educate students? Can a different approach result in better outcomes? Are regulations holding back our children? Our teachers? The answer is certainly yes, and this provision will allow us to investigate these methods and better serve our kids and faculties.

The data is clear. Early childhood education is critical to the success of children. Communities in SC where four year old kindergarten programs are available have seen tremendous improvements in student readiness, performance, and success. However, not all communities are served. This bill will expand 4K programs to every district within SC.

Habitually under-performing or otherwise failing school districts will finally be held accountable. Appropriate training will be provided to all school board members and every attempt will be made to assist in turning around failing schools. However, if a district remains chronically failing, the bill allows for removal of elected school boards.

Highlights of the Senate version of the education reform bill:

  • Sets policy commitment for educators, known as Educator Fundamentals for Professional Excellence, to provide proper workplace expectations, including:
    • Policies to provide faculty are fully respected by school and district officials.
    • Ability for teachers to initiate disciplinary measures of persistently disruptive students.
    • Expectation of a safe, secure, orderly work environment free of dangers, hazards or threats.
    • Guaranteed at least 30-minute unencumbered duty-free lunch period for elementary school teachers free of planning and instruction.
    • Additional compensation for work time required above and beyond stated contract days and responsibilities as teachers.
    • Free of excessive and burdensome paperwork related to disciplinary actions, district evaluation procedures, and other administrative inquires that prevent the fulfillment of teachers’ primary directive to implement effective instruction for their students.
    • Provide support and assistance to meet performance standards and professional expectations.
  • Eliminates three additional state-mandated tests: social studies in 5th and 7th grades and science in 8th grade.
  • Doubles the reimbursement amount teachers receive for classroom supplies from $275 to $550.
  • Requires the Department of Education to pay initial certification costs for all new public school teachers.
  • Expands Palmetto and Life Enhancement scholarships, an additional $2500 per year, to college students majoring in education.
  • Allows district flexibility for mileage reimbursement for teachers.
  • Requires school boards to provide a streamlined template for student-learning objectives (SLO’s) further reducing teacher paperwork.
  • Creates a teachers preparation data dashboard to give an easily accessible source of information for teachers related to professional assistance.
  • Ensures reading coaches do only the job they were employed to do.
  • Adds 5 day scheduling flexibility to complete Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA)
  • Reauthorizes the National Board Certification program for teachers.
  • Eliminates the Education Oversight Committee, seen as a duplicative layer of bureaucracy.
  • Expands 4K to every district in the state for students who are in families under 185% of poverty.
  • Offers personal finance elective as requirement for economics course.
  • Allows students to retain their eligibility for Palmetto Scholarship for up to two years if attending a technical college.
  • Provides summer reading camps for students after Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades.
  • Protects student data and information collected, to be held personal and confidential with state and federal privacy laws.
  • Expands ability for districts to operate Schools of Innovation, with approval of the State Board of Education.
  • Makes structural changes to schools of innovation for consistent statewide compliance with schools of innovation guidelines.
  • Mandates local school districts must ensure completion of semester exams prior to a scheduled December break.
  • Cements the GPA for lottery scholarships to allow students to remain eligible on the current ten point scale.
  • Permits students to receive additional SCWINS Scholarship if attending a two-year public technical college if the student is majoring in a critical workforce area program defined by State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education and is receiving a Lottery Tuition Assistance Program (LTAP) scholarship or meets the income eligibility guidelines for free-reduced meals; conditioned upon the student receiving career and guidance counseling and other compliance guidelines.
  • Mandates School Boards adopt follow code of ethics which must be submitted to the Department of Education and followed.
  • Creates a model training program for local school board members including, but not limited to, the powers duties, and responsibilities of board members; policy development; board relations; district finance; ethics compliance; nepotism; conflicts of interest and community relations.
  • Establishes a framework for turning around failing schools and allows for removal of elected school boards in chronically failing districts.

What's Next?

We now turn our attention to the state budget where commitments include increased base student cost funding, more spending flexibility to allow school districts to direct funding to the areas of greatest need and impact, and another salary increase for teachers, building upon the wage increases provided to teachers last year.

With this phase of education reform behind us, we can also turn our attention to other issues which we were prevented from addressing during the education debate. There is much to do.

A Quick Comment on Santee Cooper

The Senate Finance Committee officially rejected the three proposals that were provided as alternatives for Santee Cooper - 1. Purchase offer by NextEra Energy, 2. Management offer by Dominion Energy, and 3. Santee Cooper's internal reform proposal. Each had significant flaws and were unable to achieve sufficient support to move forward. There is much more to come on this issue in a future edition of this newsletter as events continue to unfold. Stay tuned.

If you have questions about these, or any issues, I always encourage you to reach out to me directly. Until then...

Take care,

What I've Been Doing

Real Men Read. I was honored to speak with the young men who participate in the Real Men Read program at DuBose Middle School recently. The doughnuts didn't last long but we had a great time. Very sharp young men working very hard to avoid negative habits and influences.

Feathers & Fellowship. It took me to the end of the season to finally get into the field. But what a great day! 15 coveys and limited out!

Mr. FFA Crowned. I judged the Mr. FFA pageant at Ashley Ridge High School. Congratulations 2020 winner, Luke Bellman. A lot of fun for all. I am thankful however that there wasn't a swimsuit competition.

What I'm Thinking About

Lowering the Cost of Quality Health Care Delivery. The challenge in front of us as a state and nation is not how to ensure every American is provided health care insurance, but how do we lower the cost of health care. The key is to reduce regulation and protectionism, while allowing for innovation and competition. South Carolina is making strides to this end by lowering obstacles and increasing access. We continue to work towards reforms to the certificate of need process which limits access to many basic and specialty cares. Most recently, working to loosen the artificial hold on neonatal intensive care services right here in our community. As study after study suggest, like this one from the Bipartisan Policy Center, there are many ideas which need to be explored for the benefit of insured and uninsured alike.

The Misguided Left & Right Flank War On Capitalism. I've commented on the virtues of capitalism many times here and elsewhere. Last Spring, I hosted the only SC screening of the film The Pursuit, which dealt with this very issue (by the way the film is now available on Netflix). Still, many in our country continue to take aim at capitalism as being the cause of our ills. Disappointingly the chorus has been joined by the populist right. In a recent column, George Will noticed our former Governor, Nikki Haley taking similar notice. The fact remains that capitalism has done more to promote equality, pull more individuals from poverty, and enhance freedoms than any other system in the world. Those, on the left and the right, that say otherwise, are simply misguided.

Is College Debt Better Addressed By Better College? There has been a great deal of attention given to the college debt crisis in America. And rightfully so. However little attention has been given to the way we deliver higher education. And what we deliver. The use of technical college degrees and certificate programs offer speedy entry into high wage careers and can not be discounted. Changes to the four year, and beyond, programs require a new view as well. Some university leaders, like Mitch Daniels at Purdue University, have been effectively managing affordability Others believe completely reimagining the public university is the answer.

What I'm Reading

My Lenten read is the fascinating story of two future world leaders, growing up in parallel, on opposite sides of the globe. Each clearly understanding the threat of communism, and committed to its defeat. Together, a Pope and a President would succeed. A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

What I'm Listening To

Not sure if it is my Irish heritage, or that we are only a few days from St. Patrick's Day, or simply my affinity for Irish rock music, but any program that plays a mix of Van Morrison, Dropkick Murphys, The Dublineers, The Pogues, Thin Lizzy, and Steve Earle will always be on my playlist. If you share that view, do yourself a favor and check out this weekly program on SiriusXM radio. If you don't have a subscription, at least listen to this one from one of my favorite Irish rock bands - Flogging Molly. Happy St. Patrick's Day! ☘