A bill aimed at committing state money to helping impoverished school districts replace or repair aging facilities was among eight proposals introduced Thursday in the S.C. House.
Another bill would allow the state to take control of a school district that is failing financially. Under current law, the state has that power only if a district is failing academically.
The facilities proposal follows calls from the governor and state schools chief this month for the state to do more to improve K-12 public school buildings, some crumbling from years of neglect.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has proposed borrowing up to $200 million a year for school facilities. That would create a new source of money for school districts. Now responsible for building and maintaining their own schools, districts in impoverished, rural areas often struggle to raise enough money just to replace roofs, much less renovate schools.
The proposal aimed at improving school facilities, sponsored by House Education Committee chairwoman Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, would create an authority that could borrow money on the state’s behalf to spend on school facilities.
The bill does not specify how the state would pay for the program, how much it would spend or how the money would be distributed to school districts. Those details will be worked out this session, Allison said, adding she has asked for the money to be committed annually.
“This would not be a one-year, two-year situation,” she said.
The bill lays the foundation for allowing school districts that cannot afford to repay loans to receive direct aid from the state.
Districts in better financial shape could borrow money for building work, Allison said. To qualify for state assistance, all districts would need to undergo an efficiency study identifying ways they can save money. They also will have to report their building maintenance plans.
The proposal also calls for school districts to get more state money if they consolidate and are able to save money on operations costs.
Thursday’s introduction of legislation comes after a House education task force spent a year coming up with proposals to improve the state’s K-12 public schools, especially those in impoverished, rural areas.
Not all of the eight bills introduced Thursday immediately were available for review.
According to a summary of the proposals, some of the legislation would put into law S.C. Department of Education initiatives already in motion, including providing technical assistance to districts that do not have expertise on their staffs.
The governor and legislators have been under pressure to answer a S.C. Supreme Court order to improve the state’s schools. In 2014, the court said South Carolina’s schools were unconstitutional because they do not provide an adequate education. The court has asked for an update this summer on what the state is doing to improve those schools.
“The Abbeville decision brought necessary attention to the critical state of South Carolina’s education delivery system,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said in a statement after the bills were introduced.
Lucas was referring to a court ruling in a case where more than 30 impoverished, rural districts — including Abbeville — sued the state in 1993 for more money.
“At the end of the day, our job is to provide school districts and teachers with the tools they need to give every child the opportunity to succeed,” he said.