Politics & Government

April 9, 2014

SC politics: Anti-Common Core bill advances

S.C. House lawmakers have joined an effort to address fears about Common Core education standards.

House panel advances anti-Common Core bill

S.C. House lawmakers have joined an effort to address fears about Common Core education standards.

The House Education and Public Works Committee advanced a proposal Wednesday that would, among other changes, withdraw South Carolina from a group of states developing a test to assess students on Common Core standards, which outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

The desire to abandon the test, developed by states with help from a federal grant, comes as S.C. school districts still have not field-tested the assessment, leaving some lawmakers and education leaders wondering what problems might crop up.

A similar bill currently is in the Senate. Having the same proposal in both chambers increases the chances that one version will pass and make it across the lobby to the other chamber before a May 1 deadline that makes it difficult for the proposal to become law.

Both the House and Senate versions also would limit schools from sharing student-level data, a fear of Common Core opponents.

The bills also contain a proposal unrelated to Common Core that would end a requirement that high-school students pass an exit exam to graduate with a diploma.

State board gives first OK to teacher-evaluation plan

State Board of Education members still are not convinced they will approve a divisive educator-evaluation program.

By a voice vote, the board Wednesday gave the first of two needed OKs to expand a teacher-and-principal evaluation program statewide. But board members said they want to hear more details about the plan before a final vote in June.

The evaluation plan is the state Education Department’s answer to meeting a federal requirement that exempted the state from the federal No Child Left Behind accountability law. To qualify for that waiver, the state must have in place by next school year an educator evaluation system that takes into account how much students improve academically.

Educator groups say the proposed evaluation system is a misguided, hostile attack on teachers. Critics say rating teachers based on how students perform on tests will encourage more teaching to the test.

But supporters, including a superintendent, principal and teacher, told the board that including student test scores in teacher evaluations gives teachers a sense of where they need to improve.

How well students improve on test scores from year to year would count toward 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation if the plan takes effect. Fifty percent of a teacher’s evaluation would come from classroom observations. Districts would have flexibility on what factors to consider for the other 20 percent.

Inventory shows S.C. agencies own 12,300 assets

Gov. Nikki Haley says state agencies own far too much property in South Carolina, and much of it should be sold.

Budget and Control Board director Marcia Adams said Wednesday the first statewide inventory in at least a decade shows 109 agencies own nearly 12,300 buildings and plots of land. Adams says a final listing should be ready by June 30. Her agency will then seek a contract for real estate management.

Haley said she had been asking for such an inventory for three years. She issued an executive order last October directing her 16 Cabinet agencies to provide an accounting. Adams says other agencies voluntarily participated, including public universities and technical schools.

Haley says she’s awaiting the final list to determine how many of the properties the state should sell.

Haley: State workers need a code of conduct

Gov. Nikki Haley ordered creation of a task force Tuesday to develop formal codes of conduct for state employees of Cabinet agencies, including defining how to use state-issued cars and phones.

Haley has asked S.C. Inspector General Pat Maley for help with a basic framework that the 16 agencies under her control can customize. The Republican governor said rules at the State Law Enforcement Division would be different than the Department of Commerce.

Many complaints to the Inspector General’s Office are about the use of state-issued cars and phones rather than about fraud, Haley said. “You can’t blame them (state workers) if you don’t tell them (the rules),” Haley said. “We have all had hiccups. This will reduce the number of hiccups along the way.”

The working group created by her executive order would include human resources officials from state agencies and the private sector. A report is due July 30. Haley hopes the state’s 93 other agencies will follow her Cabinet’s lead.

School holiday display bill clears House panel

A bill meant to protect S.C. public school districts from lawsuits over winter holiday displays is heading to the House floor.

The House Education Committee advanced a bill Tuesday allowing schools to display scenes and symbols associated with winter holidays.

Under the bill, a religious icon such as a nativity scene must be either paired with a secular symbol or grouped with at least one other religion’s symbol. Supporters say a Christmas tree qualifies as a secular.

The bill also specifies staff and students can greet each other with “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukah.”

State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, says his bill does not violate the separation of church and state. American Civil Liberties Union state director Victoria Middleton says she thinks it does and calls the bill unnecessary.

House passes elections bill

The S.C. House passed, 81-32, a bill Wednesday that allows state supervision of county election offices that don’t follow the law.

So in 2012, for example, when Richland County poll workers knew the elections office wasn’t setting out enough machines, the state could have stepped in to fix the problem, said state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland.

The bipartisan measure heads to the state Senate next month after a routine third reading Thursday.

The bill was crafted to fix constitutional problems with single-county laws that merged elections and voter-registration boards. Thirty-nine counties, including Richland County, consolidated the two functions that way.

Under the measure, the counties that have merged election and voter-registration offices become valid while those that are separate can stay separate, Smith said. “There will be no change, essentially.”

In the wake of a lawsuit, the Richland County elections office has pulled away from its voter registration office – and, Smith predicted, it will stay that way.

Jamie Self, Andrew Shain, Dawn Hinshaw and The Associated Press contributed

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