Legislative Update – March 2, 2016

 

House budget heads to the floor

A $7.5 billion state budget bill for 2016-2017 (H.5000) is heading to the House floor for debate in the next few weeks. The proposal passed out of the Ways and Means Committee last week includes about $375 million more for K12 education but does not cite specific line items to address what the state Supreme Court ruled as the state’s failure to provide opportunities for students in poor, rural school districts. The budget debate will take place just in time for SCSBA Two Days at the Capitol set for Wednesday, March 16. Be sure to register now!

K12 funding positive, so far
The House Ways and Means Committee approved budget includes K12 budget recommendations the K12 subcommittee submitted after weeks of hearing testimony from various education agencies, organizations and special schools. Highlights of the budget recommendations are below.

  • About $217.5 million is being added to the Education Finance Act (EFA), which is expected to increase the base student cost (BSC) from the current year funding of $2,220 to $2,350, or an average increase of $130 per student. This is a slight decrease from the Ways and Means K12 subcommittee’s original BSC increase to $2,270 or an average increase of $150 per student.
  • The EFA weighted pupil units is being amended to add a Dual Credit Enrollment weighting of 0.15 to the pupil classification weightings and schools will be required to identify students enrolled for dual credit in Power­School data collection program as taking a course that leads to both high school and post-secondary credits and districts to assist students in accessing applicable lottery tuition assistance.
  • The definition of students in poverty used in the EFA pupil classification weightings is being changed from students eligible for free/reduced lunch and/or Medicaid to the U.S. Department of Agriculture community eligibility criteria, and include students eligible for Medicaid, classified as Migrant and classified as Homeless and direct the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office to also use this definition.
  • A 2% percent teacher pay raise, plus the local teacher step increase and the addition of one year to the teacher step levels from 22 to 23 is included. One percent of the 2% increase is to be paid for out of the BSC increase and the other 1% from EIA funds ($23.1 million is currently budgeted).
  • About $19.2 million is being added to provide a $3 per hour starting pay increase for school bus drivers.

Other allocations of note in the budget are as follows:

  • $750,000 for teacher supply reimbursement program, which was amended to add “non-certified” public school teachers, “career specialists” and individuals employed by a publicly funded full-day 4K classroom to those individuals eligible to receive a reimbursement of up to $275 each school year to offset teaching supplies and materials expenses.
  • $8.2 million for the SC Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) to implement a program aimed at recruiting and retaining educators in rural and underserved districts to include loan forgiveness, teacher mentorships and other technical and recruiting incentives.
  • $1.5 million to conduct a facilities assessments in rural school districts to determine capital needs.
  • About $20 in capital reserve funds and lottery funds for school bus lease or purchases.
  • $1.6 million to conduct efficiency reviews in certain school districts.

New provisos of note are as follows:

  • To provide a 2 ½ percent cost of living increase for the full day 4K program.
  • To direct the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) to report on the costs associated with moving out of the Rutledge building to the Chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees and to the Department of Administration by September 1, 2016.
  • To require the SCDE to use Technology Technical Assistance funds to increase the capacity of the original trial and plaintiff school districts in the Abbeville lawsuit and direct that the funds be used to procure appropriate technological devices and infrastructure in accordance with technology review team recommendations to build the capacity to offer online testing and increased access.
  • To direct the SCDE to procure an Instructional Technology (IT) Academy for public schools statewide and direct that the academy offer certification opportunities for educators to receive teacher certification exams, for middle school students to receive software training and for high school students to receive programming credentials.

School start date bill carried over
The Senate K12 Education Subcommittee this past week carried over a bill to change the school start date from the third Monday to the second Monday in August and to change the deadline for notifying teachers of their tentative work assignment for the ensuing school year from August 15 to August 8 (S.1014).
After hearing testimony, subcommittee members expressed the need for more information about the possibility of moving state testing to the end of the year, providing a testing window and if those factors would give local districts greater flexibility in setting their own start dates.
SCSBA testified its support for the bill and thanks Patrick White, chairman of the Fort Mill board, for presenting information on the effects the current start date requirement has on school calendars and students. White stated that changing the start date one week earlier would allow school districts with high schools on block scheduling to end the first semester before the December holiday break and begin second semester when students return in January. To view sample calendars from the Fort Mill School District, click here. White advocated that the change would better assist students participating in dual credit classes by aligning more with the schedules of high education institutions. It would also allow students eligible to graduate early in December to start their higher education classes in January on time and not be delayed by first semester class final exams.
Speaking in opposition to the bill, Mark Kelley, representing Horry County School District, stated that a bill is being drafted in the House that will set the start date as August 15. He said when the start date was changed in 2006, the discussion was based on the timing of end-of-year testing and the turnaround time for the state to give districts test results o make academic decisions for students.
Melanie Barton, executive director of the Education Oversight Committee (EOC), provided subcommittee members with results of a recent survey of when states administer state tests to its students. She stated that testing must take place the last 14 days of the school year in Kentucky and testing in North Carolina occurs during the last 10 days of the school year.

Armed school employees, other bills
The House K12 Education Subcommittee voted 4 -2 last week to adjourn debate on a bill that would enact the “School Protection Officer Act” and allow school boards to designate employees as school protection officers who voluntarily provide armed protection and other safety functions at school (H.4716). Although the bill is permissive (not mandated), SCSBA testified it concerns about the bill to include increased liability issues due to increase risks. In other action, the subcommittee carried over a bill to allow teachers with 20 years or more experience to exempt the credential renewal process under certain circumstances (H.4718). The subcommittee ran out of time to take up a bill that would enact the National Motto Display Act (H.4395) to require school boards prominently display the motto “In God We Trust” in the lobby of each school building.

Roads filibuster stalling education, other bills
A filibuster on a bill to repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges through a gas tax increase and corresponding income tax relief, has resulted in a backlog of bills still awaiting Senate action. The list of bills, including education legislation, has ballooned to more than 50 pages since the session began. SCSBA remains very concerned about any proposal that would shift the cost of major infrastructure to the state’s general fund. The state needs a dedicated stream of revenue to fund infrastructure needs through the Capital Reserves Fund.
The education bills stalled in the Senate are as follows:

  • H.3265, a bill to amend the Comprehensive Health Education programs law to require that no later than the 2017-18 school year, high school students, at least once during their four years, receive instruction in hands-only CPR, which must include awareness in the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
  • S.233, a bill to amend the State Invocation Act by changing invocation to prayer and permits public bodies to open meetings with prayer under specific parameters.
  • H.3560, a bill to give school boards more options and greater flexibility in the process of renewing or not renewing teachers.
  • H.3849, a bill that would exempt from public disclosure personally identifiable information in certain evaluations of public school educators and student teachers.

Abbeville bills making way to the Senate
Some of the bills filed in the House in response to the ruling in the Abbeville education funding lawsuit are making their way out of the House, while others remain stalled on the House floor.
The House this past week approved and sent to the Senate and assigned to the Senate Education Committee are as follows:

  • H.4939, establishes a committee to review all state education laws and report to the General Assembly those that are obsolete or no longer applicable; provides that the SCDE must develop a system for providing services and technical assistance for school districts on a regional basis to include academic assistance and assistance with finances and to require the Superintendent of Education to report the design of the system to the General Assembly no later than December 31, 2016, and every year thereafter report the progress of the system in regard to assistance provided to local school districts; and requires the Department of Education to monitor the operations of school boards in underperforming districts to determine if they are operating efficiently and effectively and requires the Department to monitor the professional development of teachers, staff, and administrators in districts it determines are underperforming to ascertain what improvements and changes are necessary.
  • H. 4938, directs CERRA to survey college students to inquire if they have considered teaching in rural, economically challenged school districts and what incentives would get them to do so and report the results to the General Assembly by December 1, 2016.
  • H.4937, establishes the South Carolina Education and Economic Development  (EEDA) Coordinating Council and provides for its membership, duties, and functions.
  • H.4936, provides for educational goals for all South Carolina high school graduates and the standards and areas of learning by which these goals are measured.

The House voted against a one of the bills that would have established the Office of Transformation within the SCDE and outline the duties, functions, and responsibilities (H.4940).
In addition the House carried over another bill that would direct the SCDE to develop and adopt a statewide program for identifying fiscal practices and budgetary conditions that could compromise the fiscal integrity of a school district and to take appropriate actions (H.4941). The bill would establish three escalating levels of fiscal and budgetary concerns including “fiscal watch,” “fiscal caution” and “fiscal emergency.” SCSBA testified that while the intent of the bill to assist financially struggling districts is good, the bill provides a lot of authority to the SCDE and does not prohibit overreach. After some negotiations, the committee amended the bill to require the SCDE to work with school business officials and superintendents to develop the program to ensure safeguards are provided to local school districts.

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