The twelfth week of the General Assembly was consumed with the full Senate debate on the budget and the House working diligently to move bills to the Senate by the cross-over date of April 10th.

Senate

The Senate spent all week in session working on its version of the budget.

·         H. 3720 – (Appropriations Act) The full Senate gave second and third readings to the FY 17-18 Appropriations Act this week. Very little of the education portion of the budget changed during the floor debate. The following previously reported major changes to the education section of the House’s version of the Appropriations Act remained.

o   Increased the Base Student Cost (BSC) from $2,400 to $2,435 by the addition of $31,282,191;

o   Increased the total amount available for school bus purchases or lease by $2 million;

o   Increased the total amount to be distributed by the State Department of Education for EIA Employer Contribution by $4,255,165.

o   Decreased the total amount of funds for the Abbeville Equity Districts Capital Improvements by $54 million. The also renamed the fund and in their version the funds may be distributed to all districts with 70% going to Abbeville and 80% poverty districts and 30% going to all other districts. Priority of funding districts will be based on its facility needs assessment report and the district’s index of taxpaying ability.

o   Increased the total amount of funds for the Education Oversight Committee Partnerships by $3 million.

Additionally, the following provisos were added during the debate.

o   1A.17 – (SDE-EIA: Assessment) Was amended to reflect the previous proviso language that authorized the Department to carry forward into the current fiscal year, prior year state assessment funds for reimbursements for PSAT, pre-ACT or 10th grade Aspire.

o   1.59 –  (SDE: Summer Reading Camps) Deletes the requirement of the Education Oversight Committee tol document and evaluate the community partnerships and the impact the partnerships have on student academic success and to make recommendations on the characteristics of effective partnerships and on methods of duplicating effective partnerships throughout the state.

o   New – Big Brothers Big Sisters – Stipulates that funds retained and carried forward by the Department of Education, the Department of Education must transfer up to $50,000 to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Upstate and up to $50,000 to Big Brothers Big Sisters – Carolina Youth Development Center to support educational activities.

o   1A.89 –  (SDE-EIA: Kinesthetic Learning Platform) The Kinesthetic Learning Platform line was reduced from $350,000 to $250,000.

o   1A.50 –  (SDE-EIA: Surplus) EIA Surplus line was added entitled K-12 Funding Gap and was funded at $450,000. The State Department of Education is directed to disburse the funds for the K-12 Funding Gap proportionately to school districts (Beaufort) that, in the current fiscal year, are cumulatively appropriated and allocated at least eight percent less state funds than the school district was appropriated and allocated in Fiscal Year 2016-17.

o   1A.82 –  (SDE-EIA: School Districts Capital Improvement Plan) School Districts Capital Improvement Plan – The funds appropriated for the School Districts Capital Improvement Plan shall be allocated by the Department of Education to school districts for the purpose of funding school facility upgrades, including public charter schools. 70% of the funds shall go to any school district that is a plaintiff in the Abbeville law suit or districts with a poverty index of eighty percent or higher, including public charter schools in those districts sponsored by that district or the SC Public Charter School District. The remaining balance shall go to the remaining school districts. For the purpose of this provision, “school facility” means only facilities necessary for instructional and related supporting purposes including, but not limited to, classrooms, libraries, media centers, laboratories, cafeterias, physical education spaces, and related interior and exterior facilities. Eligible school facility projects shall include: (a) health and safety upgrades; and (b) deferred maintenance needs as described in the district’s capital improvement plan. For purposes of this provision, school facilities shall not include unimproved real property, centralized district administration facilities, or other facilities, including those normally identified with interscholastic sports activities. The department shall develop and maintain an application process for school districts, including public charter schools, to request funding for qualified school projects and establish policies, procedures, and priorities for the making of grants pursuant to this provision. At a minimum, results of the facilities assessments and a district’s own ability to raise revenues as determined by the index of taxpaying ability shall be utilized to establish priority of the eligible projects for grants. At least twice a year and upon receipt of applications pursuant to the application process adopted by the department, the department shall prioritize the eligible projects with the greatest need and shall submit a list of recommended grant awards to the State Board of Education. Grants shall be awarded upon an affirmative vote of the State Board. The financial assistance provided to school districts pursuant to this provision must be used for the eligible school facility project. The department is responsible for establishing policies and procedures to ensure that funds are expended in a manner consistent with this provision. Following the close of the fiscal year, the department shall submit an annual report of its School Districts Capital Improvement Plan activities for the preceding year to the Governor, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and the Chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee.

o   New – Kindergarten Readiness Program – Stipulates that funds appropriated to the Education Oversight Committee for Partnerships for Innovation, $300,000 must be allocated to support a home based, technology delivered kindergarten readiness program with software aligned with NAEYC’s 2 Principles of Child Development and Learning that Inform Practice and with Head Start’s Early Learning Outcomes framework and with demonstrated RCT results.

o   New – Hold Harmless – Directs the Department of Education to distribute $5,000,000 appropriated from the Education Foundation Supplement to public school districts which would in the current fiscal year recognize a loss in State financial requirement of the foundation program by utilizing an Index of Taxpaying Ability which imputes the assessed value of owner occupied property compared to the State financial requirement of the same Index of Taxpaying Ability without an imputed value of owner-occupied homes. Funds in the Education Foundation Supplement must be distributed to the school districts receiving a loss, in an amount equal to the amount of the loss. If funds are not sufficient to cover the full loss, funds will be reduced on a pro rata basis. This supplement shall not require a local financial requirement.

o   New – Act 388 Study Committee – Specifies that the General Assembly shall establish a study committee to review and study the effects of Act 388 of 2006 on the various classes of property and the impact on school district funding and on property tax payers. Membership of the committee shall be comprised of the members as follows:

(1)   one member of the Senate appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate;

(2)   one member of the Senate appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee;

(3)   one member of the Senate appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee;

(4)   one member of the Senate appointed by the Senate Majority Leader;

(5)   one member of the Senate appointed by the Senate Minority Leader;

(6)   one member of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House;

(7)   one member of the House of Representatives appointed by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee;

(8)   one member of the House of Representatives appointed by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee;

(9)   one member of the House of Representatives appointed by the House Majority Leader; and

(10)   one member of the House of Representatives appointed by the House Minority Leader.

The study committee shall provide a report with findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by June 30, 2018, at which time the study committee shall be dissolved.

Conference Committee Report

·         H. 3726 – (Pension Reform) This bill decouples employer and employee contribution rates into pension systems by eliminating the required differential between the two rates which is currently set at 2.9% for the largest pension plan, the South Carolina Retirement System which serves most state government employees, teachers, various local government employees, and others, and 5% for the Police Officers Retirement System. The legislation provides for a 2% increase in the employer contribution rates for these systems effective July 1, 2017, so that the SCRS employer contribution rate will increase from the current 11.56% to 13.56% and the PORS employer contribution rate will increase from the current 14.24% to 16.24%. Each year thereafter, a 1% increase is scheduled for these employer contribution rates until Fiscal Year 2022-2023. The legislation increases and places a cap on the employee contribution rate for these systems with the SCRS employee contribution rate increasing from the current 8.66% to 9% and the PORS employee contribution rate increasing from the current 9.24% to 9.75%. The assumed rate of return on pension plan investments is reduced from 7.5% to 7.25%. Future changes to the assumed rate of return, beginning with Fiscal Year 2021-2022, are to be recommended by the Public Employee Benefit Authority, with the General Assembly afforded an opportunity to disagree with PEBA’s recommendation prior to the new rate taking effect. The total cost contemplated for state general fund agencies and the Education Improvement Act for both SCRS and PORS is $73.6 million for Fiscal Year 2017-2018 and an additional $36.8 million for each of the next 5 years. The amortization period for unfunded liabilities is reduced from 30 years to 20 years over the course of the next 10 years. By applying the 2% employer contribution rate increase in year 1, the funding period will be reduced an additional 3 years in the first year, and an additional $100 million payment would be applied to the negative interest payment, which is now approximately $220 million annually. Provisions are made for how employer and employee contributions are to be reduced should the pension systems reach the point of comparative financial health when actuaries find them to be at least eighty-five percent funded.

o   Action:  Both the House and the Senate approved the conference committee report. The bill will be ratified and move to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

House of Representatives Floor Debate

·         H. 3311 – (Career Pathways/Workforce Scholarships) This bill provides for the development and implementation of a Career Pathways Initiative, including a Pathways to First Careers Program and a Pathways to New Opportunities Program. The legislation makes provisions for a Workforce Scholarship and Grant Fund by establishing a tax credit for taxpayers who hire an apprentice and providing a tax credit for taxpayers who contribute to the Workforce Scholarship and Grant Fund.

o   Action: The bill received third reading and was assigned to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.

·         H. 3969 – (Education Accountability Act) This bill provides that the Education Oversight Committee shall design and pilot certain district accountability models that focus on competency-based education; by establishing a state longitudinal data system for measuring the continuous improvement of public education and the college readiness and career readiness of public school graduates. The bill also provides the measuring of student progress or growth using a value-added system in addition to other changes.

o   ActionThe bill received second and third readings in the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.  Representative Allison offered an amendment to strike the section of the bill that required a report card of the General Assembly which was adopted.  Representative Collins once again offered his rating schools using the A through F letter grades.  His amendment was defeated 72-39. The bill was then approved with a 104 to 5 vote.

·         H. 3945 – (Seat Belts on Buses) This bill as amended by the subcommittee specifies that all public school buses manufactured after July 1, 2020, must be equipped with integrated three-point harness seat belts for each passenger. This requirement does not apply to any school bus in use before July 1, 2020.  The bill requires that each passenger must be fastened in a seat belt at all times during the vehicle operation and that school bus drivers must ensure that the seat belts are fastened for each passenger.  The bill states that no claim for damages may arise from the failure of a school bus driver to ensure that a school bus passenger wears a seat belt.

o   Action – The House adjourned debate on the bill until April 18.

·         H. 3566 – (Conditions Upon Which School First Responders May Possess Firearms on School Premise) This bill provides for the Law Enforcement Training Council to develop guidelines for a one-week training program offered by the Criminal Justice Academy to school first responders that certifies them to possess firearms on school premises. The legislation establishes conditions upon which school first responders may possess firearms on school premises.

o   Action – The House amended the bill to specific that a school first responder is defined as emergency medical personnel and firefighters who have completed the one-week training program offer by the Criminal Justice Academy and responds to a school emergency. The bill was approved by the House by a vote of 101 to 0, received third reading and was sent to the Senate for consideration.

·         H. 3093 – (Special Property Tax Assessment Rate Until a Deceased’s Estate Is Closed) This bill provides that when a homeowner receiving the four percent property tax assessment ratio dies, the property shall continue to receive the special owner-occupied assessment rate until the deceased’s estate is closed, so long as the property is not rented or occupied.

o   Action – The bill received second and third readings in the House and moves to the Senate for consideration.

·         H. 3867 – (Tax Exemption for Low Income Housing Property Owned by An Instrumentality Of A Nonprofit Housing Corporation) This bill revises property tax exemptions, so as to exempt all property devoted to housing low income residents if the property is owned by an instrumentality of a nonprofit housing corporation. For purposes of this legislation, ‘instrumentalities’ means partnerships, limited liability companies, or other corporations of which the nonprofit housing corporation is a partner, member, or shareholder.

o   Action – The bill received second and third reading and was sent to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

·         H. 3722 – (State Capital Improvement Bonds) This bill authorizes the sale of state capital improvement bonds to be released on or after January 1, 2018.  These bonds are for capital needs at state agencies and institutions of higher education to include the technical college system.  The State Department of Education would receive $30 million for school buses.

o   Action Debate was adjourned on the bill until April 19.

Senate

Action on the Floor

·         S. 199 – (Stopped School Bus) This bill authorizes the Department of Public Safety to issue a ticket to the owner of a vehicle that illegally passes a stopped school bus based upon the inspection of photographs, microphotographs, videotape, or other digitally recorded images produced by a digital recording system mounted on a school bus. It establishes civil penalties in an amount not to exceed $250 for the first offense and $500 for a second or subsequent offense. Appeals procedures are also outlined in the bill.

o   Action: The remains on the Senate calendar.

·         S. 131 – (Disturbing Schools) The amended bill outlines unlawful acts of a person who is not a student (defined in the bill) who interferes, disrupts, or disturbs the normal operations of a school; specifies that students who have been suspended and asked to by a school administrator to leave the school property is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction is fined not more than $100 or imprisoned for not more than 30 days or both. School administrators should comply with suspension and request for the student to leave the school property before calling law enforcement intervention.

o   ActionThe was amended by the Senate to specify that “It is unlawful for a student of a school or college in this State to make threats to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon another by using any form of communication whatsoever.” The amendment was adopted and the bill received second reading.

·         H. 3346 – (Pickens School District Board of Trustees) As amended, this bill increases the number of members of the board from six to seven members from single member districts and sets a rotation of which of the single member districts will have members elected in 2018 and 2020. The bill also states that to close any school in the district requires consideration at three separate board meetings held on three separate days with a minimum of six days between each meeting. One of the meetings must allow public testimony and one of the meetings must be held at the school to be closed or a location within one mile of the school to be closed. The bill states further that within 60 days of a closure vote by the board, a petition signed by at least fifteen percent of the registered voters at the last preceding regular election may filed requesting the vote be reversed. Failure to reverse the vote must be submitted to the electors not less than thirty days nor more than one year from the date the board takes its final vote.

o   Action The House amended the bill to remove the language relating to the petition and returned the bill to the Senate. The Senate will now have the choice to concur or non-concur with the House amendments.  If the Senate non-concurs, the bill will go to a conference committee to work out the differences.

·         S. 462 – (Diploma Pathways) This bill, promoted by the State Department of Education, provides for personalized college and career ready pathways for students to receive a high school diploma. The bill also requires the SBE to promulgate regulation establishing pathways and endorsements; requires computer science classes to include design, computer coding, or computer programing; and specifies that students who have an IEP may receive an employability credential.

o   ActionThe bill received second and third readings and was sent to the House for consideration.

 

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