Pending bills would make changes big, small to SC public school system

Greenville NewsDecember 26, 2013 

ISTOCK

— State lawmakers are looking to make changes, big and small, in public schools during the 2014 legislative session, ranging from requiring that school districts offer advertising space inside school buses to overhauling the K-12 funding system.

Other bills would change the process of how trustees are selected for state-funded colleges and universities, set up mechanisms for dealing with bullies in schools and institute full-day kindergarten for all four-year-olds in the state.

Perhaps the most far-reaching bill is one called the South Carolina Jobs, Education and Tax Act, which would revise the complex Education Finance Act and do away with a formula that now sends less state money to richer school districts such as Greenville County.

The bill, pre-filed by Dorchester County Republican Rep. Jenny Anderson Horne, would create a South Carolina Public Education Program Fund, separate from the state’s general fund.

A major component of the new funding system would be a 100-mill statewide property tax in place of the penny sales tax that the Legislature swapped with property taxes for school operations in 2007.

The bill also would re-institute the authority of local school boards to levy property taxes for operational purposes of up to 8 percent of the assessed value of property within the district.

It strikes the controversial wording in the existing law that says the state will guarantee “at least minimum” educational programs.

In its place, the bill says the state will provide each student educational programs appropriate to their needs, “using research-based educational strategies that are successful in educating students to high academic standards, with the goal of ensuring that students achieve at the academic performance levels required by the state constitution and state law.”

Another bill would do away with caps on millage rate increases for school facilities in cases where repairs are needed for the safety of schools.

Republican Rep. Joshua Putnam of Anderson and Fairfield County Democrat Rep. MaryGail Douglas filed a bill that would require school districts to offer for sale “child friendly commercial advertisements on public school buses,” except those owned by a school or district.

The money could be used only for buying new buses in the district that generated the advertising money and covering the costs of the advertising program.

South Carolina is the only state in the nation that operates a statewide school bus system, and educators say it’s the oldest fleet in the country.

Another bill would strike the state Education Oversight Committee out of huge chunks of current law related to standards and testing. The EOC was created in the late 1990’s as an independent accountability panel but has been at odds with the state Department of Education in recent years.

House bill 4413 would require school districts to set up a website on which people could anonymously report bullying in schools. Senate bill 843 would protect school employees or volunteers from lawsuits or retribution by their employer if they “in good faith” intervene in cases of bullying.

Senate bill 884 would require that filling vacancies on the board of trustees of state colleges and universities take into account demographic representation on the board. Senate bill 810 would create a special commission to screen candidates for trustees in higher education institutions.

Another bill would require students who participate in high school athletic programs to take an electrocardiogram test.

Another would allow students to attend college tuition free on the condition that they agree to pay a certain percentage of their income over a certain number of years after they graduate.

Other bills would change the way teachers are contracted and certified, set up a study committee to examine how federal funding is used for K-12 education in the state and allow the state Board of Education to grant waivers of eligibility requirements for participation in athletics for students who have been out of their district because of a medical condition.

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