Education

 

 

Proposed in 2014 Legislative Session

Tax Credits for Homeschooling and Independent School Tuition Costs (filed 2/06/14)

H.4624 if passed would represent a significant step on the road to school choice for all South Carolina children and parents. The bill would allow for up to $5,000 in annual tax relief for parents or guardians who either home school their children or pay tuition for their children to attend an independent school. Unlike past reform efforts, the tax relief provided in this bill would come in the form of a credit rather than a deduction, this change will allow lower income families to take full advantage of the tax relief and enable them to actually pay the entire average independent school tuition. It is also worth noting that the tax credit is not limited to any specific South Carolina population but would be available to all families with students eligible for South Carolina elementary or secondary public schools. While not a panacea or a ‘be all, end all’ on school choice, this bill represents one of the strongest policies in favor of school choice that has been introduced in the legislature so far.

Requiring Schools to Employ Athletic Trainers

H.4849 would require every public high school in South Carolina to employ a certified athletic trainer. Employing a trainer may be good for athletic programs at high schools, but it would have nothing to do with the core school mission of education. It is blatantly wasteful to require South Carolina schools to make expenditures on things like trainers when academic achievement in those same schools is stagnant. Furthermore, the proliferation of non-teaching personnel in both k-12 and higher education has played a large role in the school trend of “more money, same results.”

Mandating Minimum Pay for Teachers (Senate Pre-filed 12/17/13 and House filed 1/14/14)

The companion bills S.898 and H.4478 would mandate that public teachers and administrators in South Carolina be paid, at minimum, the Southeast region’s average salary for their positions. Presumably the thinking behind these bills is that South Carolina’s pay must be commensurate with surrounding states in order to attract the best teaching talent and ensure positive educational outcomes. The problem is even if an increase in teacher pay attracted more teachers at the top of their field they would still be stuck teaching under restrictive state and federal standards. These standards provide disincentives to different approaches to education, and this problem will be exacerbated with the implementation of common core. The bottom line is that this bill may increase expenditures on teachers and administrators, but it does nothing to solve the problems that lie at the heart of South Carolina education.

Related: S. 963 would increase public school teacher salaries to the national average over a five-year period.

Palmetto Pay Forward, Pay Back Pilot Program (Pre-filed 12/10/13)

H.4414 would create a pilot program that would allow students to forgo tuition at a university in exchange for signing a contract that promises a certain percent of their income for a certain number of years after they graduate or withdraw from the university. While student loan debt is a large problem in South Carolina and the United States, there are obvious problems with this approach as a solution. Chief among these problems is cases where an individual after graduation assumes a low paying job where a portion of the income from that job doesn’t even come close to paying back the true cost of their education. There is also the problem of unemployment for some graduates.

While the bill states that the pilot program will provide for circumstances of willful unemployment or underemployment, it does not specify how, nor is it clear how “willful” underemployment would be determined. Part of the problem of student debt stems from the fact that many former college students (whether they graduated or not) end up taking jobs that don’t require degrees and don’t pay enough to allow the ex-students to comfortably pay back their loans, or pay them back at all. The demand among youths for college attendance is currently over-saturated due to easy access federal loans and cultural attitudes (“everyone should go to college”), and part of the result of this is widespread debt. Rather than simply trying to shift some of the financial burden of college attendance, the state should consider whether it wants to continue to promote a college education as the only path financial stability and career success.

Requiring Legislature Approval of Academic Standards in Some Cases (Pre-filed 12/17/13)

S.888 would require approval by a Joint Resolution of the General Assembly for revisions of, changes to, or new academic standards not developed by the State Department of Education—in addition to the approval by the State Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) as current law requires. At the very least, this would give parents (and voters in general) more influence on the education standards of their children since their lawmakers—who can be held accountable to their constituents – would play a role in establishing the standards.

Unfortunately, much of the decision-making power would still be left with the two entities that aren’t directly accountable to voters—the State Board and the EOC (Read more on a bill that would eliminate the EOC here). Moreover, there can be ambiguity regarding which standards are “developed” by the Dept. of Education, and thus, which standards would need legislative approval. For example, the Dept. of Education could always develop standards that mirror those of Common Core in order to still get the No Child Left Behind waivers and federal Race to the Top funds that come with standards that fit those criteria.

As we explained earlier this year, instead of piling on different layers of approval mechanisms which spread thin the accountability through putting these decisions in the hands of the executive branch, legislative branch, and hybrid boards, the power over academic standards should be clearly given to one branch or another.  Once the power is given either solely to the executive branch (i.e. under the Dept. of Education which is headed by the State Superintendent who is elected state-wide) or legislative branch, voters will finally know who exactly to hold accountable.

Eliminating the Education Oversight Committee (Pre-filed 12/03/13)

H.4352 would eliminate the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) and devolve many of its functions to the Department of Education, and some to the State Board of Education. The EOC is a hybrid committee consisting of lawmakers and leaders from the business and education industries, making it unaccountable to voters. Devolving its duties to the Dept. of Education, which is headed by the State Superintendent who is elected statewide, would make education decisions more accountable to South Carolinians. This could have major implications on the decisions over standards and assessments (including Common Core), as we explain more thoroughly here.

Another State Pre-K Program (Pre-filed 12/10/13)

S.834 would create the Child Development Education Program, a new full day 4k/preschool program that would be available by 2015-2016 to all “at risk” children in public school districts. Within five years of its implementation the program would be expanded to cover all children in public school districts. South Carolina already has multiple publicly funded early education programs such as Head Start and the Child Development Education Pilot Program; there is no need to add another program on top of these. State financed early education to date has produced little to no lasting benefits for children who participate and there is no sense in continuing to throw good money and resources after bad. If legislators wish to improve education outcomes they should instead look to increase choice in education.

Proposed in 2013 Legislative Session

A New 4K Program

H.3424 would create the South Carolina Child Development Education Program (CDEP), which would provide 4 year old pre-kindergarten to “at risk” children in South Carolina. Unfortunately, federal studies of national level programs have found pre-kindergarten programs to have few if any lasting educational benefits for children. If this were to hold true in South Carolina, (and there’s no reason to think our state would be an exception), taxpayers would be essentially on the hook for a new state-provided daycare program, something far outside the scope of core government functions. The fact that South Carolina already provides a number of similar programs makes this bill even more questionable.

Public School Choice

S.313 would implement a school district choice program in South Carolina. In other words, public funding for schools would, by and large, be directly tied to the student, allowing students and parents to choose schools outside of their district to attend. If a school has failed the student in the past, then under this system, the student would now be permitted to shop around for another school. This provides for public charter schools, magnet schools, and other specialized programs. This bill, although limited in scope, would at least introduce free market principles to South Carolina’s consistently bottom-tier public education system.

School Choice?

S. 279 would allow an annual state income tax deduction up to $2,000 for the parent(s)/guardian of each home-schooled student.  It would allow a similar deduction up to $4,000 for each private school student, and up to $1,000 for each student attending a public school outside his/her resident public school district. The bill also offers tax credits to those who donate to organizations that provide primary education scholarships to children who qualify for various kinds of government assistance. Unfortunately, the main provision of this bill (the deductions) falls short of offering to average South Carolinians real alternatives to our current public education system. A $4,000 deduction for a family making the median income in South Carolina would save that family roughly $280, hardly enough to pay for a private education. The education system in this state needs serious reform, not lip service in the name of choice. For a more detailed analysis of this bill see our piece “School Choice this Year?”.

Basing Higher Ed Budget on Base Student Cost

S.89 would have the General Assembly establish a higher education base student cost each year. Each public higher education institution would then only be funded based on the number of students enrolled multiplied by this base student cost. As we’ve mentioned before, public universities – which, whether their administrators admit it or not, are in fact state agencies – have seen their funding increase even as graduation rates have decreased. Preventing these institutions from arbitrarily increasing their budgets is therefore in the best interest of taxpayers.

Increasing Compulsory School Attendance Age

H.3339 would increase the child’s age at which a parent or guardian no longer has the responsibility of forcing the child to attend school from seventeen to eighteen. While well intended, this law would do nothing to solve the real education problem in South Carolina. If a student is willing to drop out at the age of seventeen, there is very little chance that forcing the parents to force this student to attend until the age of eighteen would do anything to actually help the student academically. Again, just as increased funding for districts hasn’t resulted in better test scores, this bill does not fix the real education problem that parental school choice would help solve.

Requiring Homeschooled Children to take Standardized Tests

 H.3478 would require homeschooled students to take the same annual statewide test as children attending public schools. The bill would also require the test be administered by certified school district employee, and that the cost of administering the test must be paid for by the parents of the homeschooled child if the test is administered in the child’s home.  At a time when our public school test performances continue to worsen or at best stagnate, the state should focus its efforts on students in these institutions, not on further regulating homeschooled children whose academic achievements most often eclipses their public schooled peers.

Exempting Employed 60 Year Olds from Paying Tuition

 S.259 would exempt South Carolina citizens 60 or older who receive compensation as full-time employees from paying tuition at state universities under the jurisdiction of the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education. At a time when tuition for South Carolina universities continues to rise, why would the state exempt older citizens from paying for education while our youth continue to accumulate more and more debt in pursuit of a college degree? Medicare and Social Security operate essentially by redistributing wealth from the relatively poor young to the relatively wealthy old: there’s no good reason for South Carolina to further contribute to this trend.

Mandating Schools Teach CPR

H.3368 is another bill in which state lawmakers have trivially asserted themselves in local affairs without heed to any consequences. By mandating that schools give instruction in CPR, energy and time for more vital parts of education are diverted elsewhere. The bill also mandates the school to use funds to buy an automated external defibrillator (or AED) without any funding provisions. Learning CPR, while good and noble thing to do, isn’t any part of what a public school should provide its students.

Prohibiting Common Core Standards

S.300 would prohibit Common Core State Standards, essentially a national curriculum, developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative from being imposed on South Carolina. Education is constitutionally a state issue, not a national one. Insofar as government should be involved in education, its policies and standards should be left with a government closest to the people whose children it effects. This bill will ensure that the determination of our state’s educational curriculum stays where it belongs – with South Carolina officials rather than with unknown and unelected bureaucrats in Washington.

Taxing Private Schools in Same Manner as Public Schools

S.451 would give private schools and home schools the same tax exemptions that public schools get. While it’s unfortunate that there are tax exemptions in the first place, it is important that private schools not be put at a disadvantage compared to public schools. This would be a positive step towards giving parents a choice over their children’s education, and not penalizing them for choosing private school or home school for their children.

A New Government Program for School Food

S.191 would create the South Carolina Fresh on the Campus Program within the Department of Agriculture. Its purpose would be to “foster direct relationships between South Carolina farms, schools, and other institutions and to provide schools and other institutions with fresh and minimally processed foods for consumption by students.” And like nearly all new programs and agencies, this proposal states the program will “create jobs”. This bill also mandates that this new program “seek grants and private funding as appropriate”—meaning this is will just add to the Department of Agriculture’s already bloated budget. Bills like this may have good intentions, but they result in more money taken from taxpayers to fund government programs that the private market could provide more efficiently and with more expertise.

Creating an Unaccountable “Enterprise Division” for Clemson

S.535 would enact the “Clemson University Enterprise Act” which would establish an Enterprise Division as a part of the university. Various assets, programs, and operations of the university would be transferred to this new division, and this bill provides that the division is exempt from various laws governing procurement, human resources, personnel, and disposition of property. Furthermore, the Enterprise Division would have the power to acquire property under terms it considers appropriate, retain services of consultants and attorneys, issue bonds, enter relationships with non-profits, and even finance capital improvements, which wouldn’t be subject to normal procurement processes.

Higher Education Institutions are already some of the biggest drivers of budget increases; creating a new unaccountable division for a major university would just create another avenue for university bureaucrats to spend at will, with no regard for the taxpayers. Not to mention, the procurement exemptions open the door for cronyism between university buyers and their friends’ companies.

Allowing Local School Districts to Sponsor Charter Schools

S.436 would establish the ability of a local school district to support a public charter school in another adjoining school district if that school serves predominately “at-risk” students, or students who, in other words, by virtue of their circumstances are more likely to fail academically. The fluidity of support in the bill allows for charter schools to be effective outside the traditional restraints on school districts. The bill provides that the sponsored school can also be deemed to be located in the sponsoring district for a variety of purposes.

Requiring Students Take, But Not Pass Exit Exams

H.3919 would amend current law concerning statewide educational assessment programs. The law while leaving intact the requirement that high school students take an exit exam, makes clear that students could no longer be denied graduation for failing the exam. By removing the student requirement to pass, the exit exams are now only suitable for generating school performance data. By making clear students need not pass the exams however, the testing required by this bill is likely to produce skewed results. The usefulness of standardized tests for both school and student evaluation and improvement is already disputed, and making clear that negative student performance on these tests will have no consequences for students is not likely to improve the tests as useful evaluation standards. To achieve better data on school performance, the state should make clear that students have a stake in these exams or better yet, find an alternative method to standardized exams for performance evaluations.

The nerve has reported at length on this bill in the story “Exit Exam Costs SC Taxpayers $3.5 Million-Plus Yearly

Holding Back students who fail to meet standardized testing standards

H. 4088 would enact a number of changes to South Carolina’s public education system, the most notable of which is requiring students be retained in their current grade if they fail to demonstrate by way of end of year exam that their English and math skills are at grade level. There is one exception to this new restriction: Students may be passed to the next grade if they attend summer school and take another test while attending summer school that demonstrates the required level of performance in the required subjects. Parents would have to pay $125 per course taken by their child in summer school.

If children are being forced into summer school due to lacking requisite skills, why are we punishing parents with additional costs when it is the schooling system that is failing? Further, The Nerve reported on a similar bill recently and noted that no fiscal impact had been determined, which holds true for this bill as well. Finally, the premise of this bill is highly questionable as independent studies have cast doubts on the efficacy of standardized testing as a learning indicator.

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