Legislative Update – January 26, 2018

The Hard Work Begins

With the House spending much of its time this week debating bills dealing with the nuclear plant abandonment, few subcommittees met.  The Ways and Means K-12 Subcommittee held two meetings.  The first received budget requests from the Education Oversight Committee and the second meeting had State Superintendent Molly Spearman discussing the Department’s budget request.

Education Oversight Committee

On Tuesday afternoon the Education Oversight Committee presented its budget request to the Ways and Means K-12 Subcommittee. It did not request any additional funding for the agency but did make the following recommendations for the use of EIA funds.

  • $250,000 for STEM Centers. The increase would support rural STEM initiatives in the Upcountry and Coastal Pee Dee Regions as well as outreach initiatives in Barnwell, Allendale and Aiken Counties in partnership with the Dream Imagination Gift, a community educational program.
  • $500,000 for Arts Curricula (Arts Commission). The increase would provide grants to schools and districts to expand year-round arts education programs, ABC sites and technology in the arts for students throughout the state.
  • $3 million for Industry Credentials (Career and Technology Education). For the past two fiscal years, the General Assembly has appropriated $3.0 million in non-recurring funds for national industry certifications.  The EOC recommends annualizing funding for this initiative to ensure more students graduate career ready for the workforce needs of the state.
  • $2.9 million for Aid to Districts Technology. The EOC allocated remaining additional EIA revenues to school districts for infrastructure technology for teaching and learning.
  • $8.7 million for Teacher Salary. Amending the state minimum teacher salary to establish $32,000 as the minimum starting pay for a teacher with 0, 1 and 2 years of experience at all educational levels is estimated to cost approximately $8.7 million.
  • $360,000 for Teaching Fellows Program (CERRA). To increase the number of Teaching Fellows from 200 to 215 annually.
  • $250,000 for Working Conditions Survey (CERRA). Approximate cost for survey development, distribution and data analysis is $250,000.
  • $450,664 for Other Agencies Teacher Salary Increases. The increase is to ensure that teachers employed in state schools receive salaries that are commensurate with the salary schedules of the school district in which the school is located.
  • ($5,000,000) National Board Certification. Due to declines in the number of individuals receiving National Board supplements, the EOC recommends a reduction in the line item.
  • $13.1 million for the South Carolina Public Charter School District. SCPCSD estimates total enrollment of 30,000 students which equates to a net increase of $13.1 million.
  • $11 million for EAA Technical Assistance. EOC recommends an $11.0 million increase in FY 2018-19 and subsequent increases in FY 2019-20 as needed to identify and serve the educational needs in identified schools.
  • $1.4 million for Student Learning System.  EOC recommends the Student Learning System to provide support services to districts that connect separate databases with accurate data, the funds will assist districts in having correct and meaningful information to make informed decisions about programs and supports for students.
  • $1.6 million for PowerSchool. These funds will upgrade the security for the data system that is responsible for all financial, program and accountability support.
  • $750,000 for Student Engagement Survey.  State legislation requires the administration of a student engagement survey to students, the results of which will be a measure of school quality.
  • $485,000 for Professional Development.  The funds will be used to implement two professional development programs in four middle schools. The professional development will assist educators in teaching students how to become self-regulated and self-directed learners.
  • $197,670 for Longitudinal Data System.  Act 94 of 2017 requires the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office (RFA) to provide a longitudinal data system. RFA has requested $197,670 in General Funds for two new positions to complete the system.
  • Consolidation of Line Items.  The EOC recommends the following district allocations in two line items – Professional Development ($6,744,153) and Reading ($3,271,026) – be consolidated in the Aid to Districts line item.

State Department of Education

Superintendent Spearman presented the Department’s budget request to the Ways and Means K-12 Subcommittee on Wednesday morning.  She began her presentation acknowledging that she was aware that this will be a tight budget year because of the limited increase in the revenue projections.  However, she stated that it was her responsibility to advise the Subcommittee of the needs in education regardless of the available revenue. List below are her requested items.

  • $131 million for EFA and Fringe.  This request would increase the Base Student Cost (BSC) $125 from the current BSC of $2,425 to $2,550.
  • $5 million for School Bus Purchase. The Department is requesting an additional $5 million of recurring funds to bring the total to $10 million in recurring funds for the purchase of school buses.  To fund the 15-year replacement cycle the General Assembly would need to appropriate $34 million annually. The addition of $5 million in recurring funds would allow the Department to acquire 293 buses using a lease purchase program.
  • $22.2 million for Technical Assistance.  With the current allocation of funds for technical assistance, the Department is supporting 40 schools. The new ESSA requirement is for states to serve the bottom 10% of schools.  This requirement adds an additional 80 schools. The request is to add an additional 90 transformation coaches to support technical assistance in the schools.  Additionally, the Department is requesting 4 new FTEs (2 administrative assistants and 2 education associates) to support the delivery of technical assistance.
  • $44.9 million EIA for Teacher Salary and Fringe. The Department is requesting EIA funds to raise the salaries of teachers with zero and one year of experience to a minimum of $32,000.  This would represent a 6% increase over the state’s current beginning teacher salary.  These funds would also be used to provide all teachers a 1% salary increase. Superintendent Spearman stated that the increase in BSC would fund an additional 1% salary increase thus giving teachers a 2% salary increase.
  • $1.6 million for Power School Hosting.  School districts currently face a three-fold challenge with the current data management system – maintaining the physical equipment, maintaining a robust back-up system to prevent corruption of data, and frequently updating the software to maintain data security. Providing these funds for the State to host the system for all districts has the potential to reduce the cost to school districts particularly in the State’s rural districts.
  • $5.2 million for Learning Management System. Referred to as Connect K-12, this Department request will allow every teacher in the state to access lesson content and resources designed or curated by SC teachers, collaborate remotely with other teachers, contribute their own lessons and resources to receive feedback from peers, and increase the use of authentic materials and assessments aligned to SC state standards and the new competencies for the Profile of the SC Graduate. The Department is requesting 2 FTEs to assist with this system.
  • $4.3 million for the Virtual SC Program.  This Department request would provide funding for salaries and fringe for 15 new teachers.  Currently the program serves 39,590.  There were 4,313 students who could not be served. The additional funding would be sufficient to provide services to meet the demand.
  • $1.2 million for Competency Based Education Coaches.  The Department is requesting these funds to provide targeted technical support to districts and schools working to implement personalized, competency based educational practices for students to achieve the Profile of the SC Graduate. The funds would be used to serve approximately 200 schools across three tiers of support using 10 time-limited coaches.
  • $3 million for Bus Routing, Scheduling, and GPS Tracking. The Department is requesting these tools pilot the program in the three Orangeburg districts to assist them in assessing the needs of the area, maximizing their use of buses, and improving the overall transportation travel times and safety of students.
  • $1 million for 3 New FTEs for Bus Routing, Scheduling, and GPS Tracking. These Department is requesting 3 FTEs to work with districts to ensure that student and routing data are accurately and timely entered into the routing software and PowerSchool; monitor and audit bus routes for efficiencies and compliance with state laws and regulations; monitor software capabilities for potential problems; liaison with the statewide vendor for system adjustments and problem solving; and train district transportation staff, with assistance and technical support from the vendor, on data entry and features of the software and technology requirements.
  • $1.4 million for Student Information System (Level Data). Level Data is a support service to districts that will connect disparate databases to reduce double entry of data, ensure data across systems agree and are entered in the proper format.
  • $750,000 for EAA Student Surveys. The survey is required by legislation and the estimated cost is $1 per student.
  • $3 million for Reading Coaches.  For school year 2017-18 the number of students scoring below “meets expectations” increased and there are additional schools that now qualify for either a full-time reading coach or a part-time reading coach. These additional funds are need to ensure that each school that is entitled to receive funds receives the amount listed in proviso 1.62.
  • $10.5 million for Instructional Materials. The Department is requesting these funds to cover the increased cost of providing consumable student materials and to provide funding for digital materials.
  • $1.4 million for Educator Effectiveness and Data Management System.  This budget request represents costs associated with the continued implementation of new principal and teacher evaluation systems that focus on student growth and data-driven, personalized feedback to improve instruction.
  • Educator Preparation.  The Department is requesting 2 FTEs to support the accreditation of the educator prep programs in the state and the increase in alternative certification pathways. These positions would be funded with existing Department funds.
  • $384,143 for Fiscal Accountability. The Department is requesting 3 FTEs to support the implementation of the Fiscal Accountability Act. They are requesting an Auditor IV position to review plans, track the deadlines on the plans and implementation, provide a report of the status, visit and inspect districts and make recommendations in collaboration with the Office of Finance staff; an experienced Fiscal Analyst III to provide specialized technical assistance to each applicable district to ensure implementation of the plans; and an auditor specializing in forensic auditing or accounting to investigate the increased number of reported instances of intentional fraudulent use of public funds at the school district level.
  • $188,475 for Standards and Learning.  The Department is requesting 2 FTEs to enable it to scale up its support in the areas of competency development and transdisciplinary learning models (STEM/PBL), both of which are research-based components essential to effective and sustainable implementation of Personalized and/or Competency-based Learning models.
  • Standards and Learning. The Department is requesting 1 FTE to support the work of developing Computer Science standards for grades 9-12 and support computer science education and professional development across the state. This position would be funded with existing funds.
  • $331,184 for Accountability.  The Department is requesting 2 FTEs to help manage the increased demand associated with monitoring approximately 264 schools in addition to all earlier established programs.
  • $20 million Recurring for Transportation.  The Department is requesting to move $20 million of EIA funds to General Funds because it does not receive adequate EIA funding to operate the bus fleet until October simply due to the deposit schedule for the funds and other EIA items that have funding priority by Proviso 1A.7.
  • $1 million for Adult Education.  The Department is requesting these funds to expand adult education services so that additional students could be served.
  • $ 8 million Non-recurring for School Bus Purchase.  The Department is requesting these funds to purchase 87 buses to complete the 15-year replacement cycle.
  • $57 million Non-recurring for School Bus Purchase.  The Department is requesting these funds to replace all remaining 1995 buses that remain in the fleet.
  • $58.2 million Non-recurring for Instructional Materials.  This request for funds includes the purchase of consumable student materials (social studies, science, math, and cursive writing), replacement materials of older adoptions, science kit refurbishment, and new instructional materials.
  • $3 million Non-recurring for Statewide Program for Routing, Scheduling and GPS Tracking.  This request is for non-recurring funding to support one-time costs associated with purchase of GPS hardware for statewide implementation of a routing and scheduling system.
  • $525,000 for Comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan.  The Department is requesting these funds for immediate replacement of roofs at 15 bus shop buildings.
  • Consolidation of Budget Lines.  The Department is requesting
    • the consolidation of the portion of Professional Development funds (($6,744,153) and Reading funds (($3,271,026) that are allocated to school districts by Weighted Pupil Unit into the Aid to District funded program which is also allocated by Weighted Pupil Unit.
    • to reduce the line item for the Lunch Program and roll that amount of $25,800 into the EFA Base Student Cost.
    • to reduce the line item for Aid School Districts for IMD operations and roll that amount of $89,839 into the EFA Base Student Cost

Weather Decisions…..

When there is a weather event, we always get questions about how decisions are made…I thought it might be useful to shed some light on how we approached the decisions we have made today.

We made the decision to open on a delay today based on concerns about cold temperatures, especially in the rural areas. Temperatures in Kershaw County can vary widely depending on where you are. We were also concerned about the dependability of our bus fleet, even though all buses were started and checked on Tuesday. The delay allowed us to verify that buses were ready to roll so that students weren’t standing for long periods of time in very cold temperatures waiting for their buses. The age of our bus fleet makes this even a bigger source of concern. (The State owns the school buses and has not funded an adequate replacement cycle for a long time, but that’s another story.)

We rechecked the weather forecast at about 4:30 a.m. this morning, and the predication was still that Kershaw County would be at worst on the outer edge of any precipitation. In a situation like this, we continually work with Emergency Services at the County to monitor the storm track. At about 10:00 a.m. the forecast for the track of the storm changed, putting us more in line for snow. At that point, we made the decision to dismiss early.

We will monitor what occurs throughout the afternoon, evening and overnight in order to make a decision about tomorrow. We are blessed to have tremendous cooperation and support from Public Safety folks, who help us monitor conditions across a very large county. District staff will also go out and personally check roads in the morning if necessary.

I also need to emphasize that in making decisions, we will always err to the side of caution and safety.

I hope this information is helpful.

Proposed Teacher Salary Increase

I read with great interest the article in Sunday’s State newspaper about State Superintendent Molly Spearman’s proposal to raise teacher salaries. I applaud her for using the visibility of her position to focus on this critically important issue.

That said, I hope Ms. Spearman and other political leaders also focus on the funding issue. The General Assembly has not funded its legal obligation for K-12 education since 2008. Kershaw County by itself has lost over $70 million during this period. If education had been funded as the law requires all along, we would not be in this pickle now.

Funding teacher salaries and school buses and all the other needs out there will require an overhaul of both the state’s archaic and dysfunctional tax structure and the state’s illogical and frankly discriminatory school funding formula. It’s certainly a good thing to talk about needs…But this conversation must also include how to generate the funding to meet these needs.

Some very viable proposals on tax structure and school funding have been presented over the last several years and gone nowhere. Unless the money issue is addressed, Ms Spearman’s very appropriate idea will just be something that gives teachers more false hope.

I do find it interesting, however, that the folks in Columbia can always find funding for more testing….school buses and teacher salaries not so much.

My view from out here in the field….

Mr. Bobby Jones

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Mr. Bobby Jones. Mr. Jones gave a lifetime of service to Kershaw County as an educator, as a Highway Commissioner, and as a leader in countless other community endeavors. During my time here, Mr. Jones frequently gave me very wise counsel on a number of issues. He had a great deal of wisdom about life and people. Mr. Jones also had a special place in his heart for young people, and he worked with schools on anti-drug education right up to just a few weeks ago. He will be greatly missed by so many in our community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Mary and his family.

Camden High Hall of Fame Induction

I was honored to be able to attend the Camden High School Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last night. The Class of 2017 included Ms. Alfred Mae Drakeford, Dr. Paul Joseph, Sr., Dr. Janet Marshall, Mr. Patrick Davis, Mr. Austin Sheehen, and Mr. Thomas “Daddy Mac” McLester (posthumously). The Camden High School Improvement Council started this program last year, and it has been a resounding success! This was a wonderful celebration of the community!!!

This Made My Day!!!

This morning, I got to talking with a young man who attends one of our middle schools. When he was first starting school, I remember how he struggled with both academics and behavior. Today, he’s taking advanced classes and has become very poised and mature. This didn’t just happen. Teachers and administrators and a lot of other folks worked with his family and more importantly, didn’t give up. There are numerous stories like this in our schools. That’s what makes this district and community so special!

Letter About Accountability Proposal

This letter was published in both the State newspaper and the Chronicle-Independent…..

A recent national survey done by Gallup and the respected education organization Phi Delta Kappa had some very enlightening things to say about the obsession with standardized testing that has gripped our country for the past 20-25 years.

The survey strongly indicated that parents across demographic groups believe that standardized testing is both overemphasized and that such testing is not an accurate indicator of educational quality. Parents in our state and across the nation have reached their saturation point with standardized testing.

Therefore, it is disturbing that the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC) is about to adopt an accountability system that bases 90% of the accountability for elementary and middle schools on standardized testing.

This accountability system would also require more standardized testing than is being mandated by the federal government. In addition, the ratings categories being considered by the EOC will always identify 20% of all schools as “failing” no matter how much improvement occurs.

The EOC has botched an opportunity with this tone deaf proposal by resorting to the same old warmed-over bubble tests. The EOC needs to come up with something