Legislative Update – January 13, 2017

New Faces – New Places

The 122nd session of the General Assembly convened on Tuesday, January 10th. Many new faces adorn the offices and halls of the Blatt and Gressette buildings. The Senate welcomed eight new members with four of them being former House members. This is the largest new member group in the Senate in quite a long while.  The House welcomed 18 new members.

With so many new faces, it was only logical to have new members on the education and finance committees. The new members of the Senate Education Committee are Ross Turner, Greenville; Rex Rice (former House member), Pickens; Sandy Senn, Charleston/Dorchester; and Scott Talley (former House member), Greenville/Spartanburg.  New Senate Finance Committee members include Chauncey Gregory, Lancaster/York; Karl Allen, Greenville; Sean Bennette, Berkeley/Charleston/Dorchester; and Tom Corbin, Greenville/Spartanburg.

The House Education Committee has five new members. They are Terry Alexander, Darlington/Florence; Linda “Lin” Bennett, Charleston/Dorchester; William Scott Cogswell Jr., Charleston; Jason Elliott, Greenville; Patsy Knight, Colleton/Dorchester; and John “Jay” West, IV, Abbeville/Anderson.  The House Ways and Means Committee has three new members. They are Nathan Ballentine, Lexington/Richland; Kirkman Finley, III, Richland; and Michael “Mike” Sottile, Charleston.

There will be three new faces as subcommittee chairs.  The new Senate Education K-12 Subcommittee Chairman is Senator Greg Hembree who represents Horry County.  The new Senate Finance K-12 Subcommittee chairman has not yet been announced. In the House, the new Ways and Means K-12 Subcommittee chairman is Representative Bill Whitmire who represents Oconee County.

With the shortening of the session (S.267), there are new important dates to remember. The final day of the 2017 legislative session will be Thursday, May 11th.  The deadline for bills to “cross-over” without a 2/3s vote for consideration from the receiving chamber is now April 10th.

House Begins Budget Work

With the full Ways and Means scheduled to begin budget deliberations the week of February 20th, all subcommittees began budget hearings this week.  Chairman Whitmire heard from Wil Lou Gray, SC Public Charter School District and First Steps.  Wil Lou Gray requested $270,895 recurring funds for technology initiatives, a pay plan allocation and an FTE.  They also requested $230,000 nonrecurring funds for underground utilities, HVAC, and archival work.

The SC Public Charter School District (SCPCSD) requested $19,437,803 increase from the previous year’s allocation due to projections of schools and student growth. In addition to this request, the SCPCSD proposed a proviso to launch what they call South Carolina Opportunity Schools. The proviso would create a public-private partnership to create 20 new high-quality charter schools over the next 10 years.  They are asking for $5 million from the General Assembly (with $5.5 million from private philanthropy) to develop and launch new charter schools across the state in the highest need communities (to include Abbeville Lawsuit Plaintiff districts) as defined by poverty thresholds.

First Steps to School Readiness requested $2.18 million in recurring funds to expand their home visitation programs for the local partnerships.  They also requested $143,000 for a data system to meet the requirements described in the reauthorization statute.

The subcommittee will meet again on January 25th at 10:00 am and will hear from the State Superintendent of Education and the Department of Education.

Senate Education Hears from Superintendent

Superintendent Spearman began her testimony to the Senate Education Committee by highlighting accomplishments. She listed the following as recent accomplishments of the SCDE.

  • 30 transformation coaches have been placed in low performing schools to aid in student performance.
  • 858 new buses have been placed on the road.  178 of those buses we done through a lease program.
  • The facilities review team is hard at work evaluating the conditions of the state’s facilities.
  • SCDE is sending out funding to districts for industry credentials.
  • The efficiency study should be underway soon. It was delayed because of a protest, but hope to have it begin very soon.
  • Higher expectations are paying off for our students.  Of those taking the AP courses, in 9 out of the 10 most common exams, South Carolina students are scoring higher than the national average.

The Superintendent then moved on to outline her plan for next year by highlighting her budget request. The following requests are being made by the Superintendent in the order of priority.

  • $107,144,508 recurring for EFA and related fringe. This is an additional $150 to the base student cost (BSC) bringing the BSC to $2,500.
  • $95 million nonrecurring for the replacement/leasing of new school buses. She is also requesting $10 million in recurring funds.
  • $4.3 million recurring for increased technical assistance to underperforming schools and districts.
  • $4.25 million recurring for procurement of a learning management system to ensure districts and teachers have access to high quality curriculum and coursework.
  • $19.2 million recurring to increase state funded bus driver salaries to $7.70 per hour.
  • $1.6 million recurring for PowerSchool security upgrades, and to ensure that backups to the data are done frequently by the State.
  • $1.3 million recurring for Level Data to ensure that data are being entered correctly and meaningful information is available.
  • $750,000 recurring for a student engagement survey.
  • $3.76 million recurring for Virtual SC.
  • $3 million recurring for industry certification/credentials. Current funding is nonrecurring.
  • $356,000 recurring for teacher supplies to maintain the $275 reimbursement level.
  • $874,000 recurring for extended mentoring to new teachers beyond the induction year.
  • $2.7 million recurring for mechanic salary increases.
  • $1.7 million recurring for expansion of the ADEPT implementation.
  • $2 million recurring for Tech Prep work based learning.
  • $1.2 million recurring for literacy initiatives.
  • $42 million nonrecurring and $12 million recurring for instructional materials.
  • $200,000 recurring for continued buildout of personalized learning.
  • $2 million recurring for employer fringe contribution.
  • $60,000 nonrecurring for SCDE operation and support.
  • $1 million recurring for Adult Education. Last year’s funds were nonrecurring.
  • $30 million recurring for EIA Employer Fringe contribution.
  • $2.6 million recurring for 3.25% pay increase fringe benefits.

Accountability System and the EOC

The Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee of the Education Oversight Committee (EOC), which is charged by the General Assembly to recommend a single accountability system this year, approved a revised plan on Tuesday. Changes were made to the areas that raised much concern. Below are those changes.

  • Elimination of the A-F school summative ratings on report cards.
  • Elimination of the ratings bell curve.
  • Changing the “n” student group size from 10 students to 20 students.
  • Changing the “college ready” criteria for ACT scores from a score of 22 on Math and 19 on English to a composite score of 20.
  • Measuring school academic growth using a value-added system; however, the use of teacher and student roster verification will be at the discretion of local school districts, as well as proposed language guaranteeing privacy for teachers.
  • Eliminating “chronic absenteeism” as a non-academic indicator of school performance.
  • Reporting percentage of kindergarteners, first graders and second graders who score ready on the reading assessment, phased in over the next three years.                                                                                                                                                                                                     Joint House and Senate Committee

The joint Senate and House committee studying how to address the fiscal crisis in the state pension system began putting together its recommendations. The committee has been meeting throughout the interim, hearing from pension fund experts and staff. The committee approved to propose several actions in the form of legislation to address more than $20 billion in unfunded obligations. The actions include the following:

  • Setting employee retirement pay contributions at 9% (now at 8.6%).
  • Authorizing the ability to increase contributions paid by employers at a higher percentage rate than what is paid by employees (currently, employers pay 11.56% of an employee’s salary)
  • Preserving the annual 1% cost-of-living increase (capped at $500) for retirees.
  • Reducing the assumed annual rate of return on investments from 7.5% to 7% and beginning in 2021, allowing the Public Employee Benefit Authority (PEBA) to change the rate of return unless rejected by the General Assembly.


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