State legislators will be hitting the books when they return in January.
Members of the South Carolina House of Representatives pre-filed 82 bills for the legislative session beginning Jan. 14. Many of them have direct impact, should the bills become laws, on education from the local district level to colleges and universities. All of the pre-filed bills would require several votes and the governor’s signature for ratification.
Greg Foster, deputy chief of staff for House Speaker Bobby Harrell, said a “very small percentage” of introduced bills become law, and pre-filings make up a small part the legislative discussion as House and Senate members can introduce items at any time. Last year the House saw 1,340 new bills. The House and Senate ratified 123 bills ad 120 acts, with one veto and two pending items.
“It really comes down to the substance of a bill and not the quantity of bills introduced that determine whether or not — or which — bills get enacted into law,” Foster said.
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Bills impacting public education made up roughly one in every eight pre-filed bills. One bill would create the South Carolina Jobs, Education and Tax Act. It would change how Education Finance Act funding is determined and distributed to schools and districts. It would create the South Carolina Public Education Program Fund providing monthly revenue for elementary and secondary schools, and define numerous goals for education spending.
Another bill would impact the hiring and firing of teachers. Districts would develop evaluation standards for teachers and principals, or use a set developed by the state. Teachers coming in through alternative routes of certification would face additional regulations and procedures for letting teachers go would be outlined.
The state Commission on Higher Education, according to one bill, would create a system where students accepted to public colleges or universities can forgo tuition payments and instead pay a percentage of income for a set number of years after graduation.
A bill would require school districts to offer “child-friendly commercial advertisements” on school buses except those owned by the district. Advertisements would be optional for district-owned buses. Revenue generated would be used to purchase new buses.
School districts would be required to develop websites allowing anonymous reports of harassment, intimidation or bullying of a student at school, per one bill. Districts would be required to respond to each complaint and report them to the state Department of Education. Website information would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Counties, municipalities, fire or other public service districts and school districts would have to notify every registered voter in their jurisdiction via email, text or phone call when approving budgets, except for registered voters who opt not to receive them.
Students participating in school-sponsored athletic events would be required to undergo an electrocardiogram before competing. A student must be cleared by a doctor following the test, according to the bill.
One bill would allow school districts to exceed the annual cap on millage rate increases if the money is used for repairs of existing schools that otherwise wouldn’t be usable. The money also could be used for security system installation and monitoring equipment.
Another bill would establish Federal Education Funding Study Committee to evaluate federal education spending statewide. Another would require the state Department of Education to release high school graduation data based on race or ethnicity by Sept. 1 of each year.
Just as there’s no guarantee any of the bills will become law, there’s no certainty the current language in the bills will come to a final vote. Often bills receive substantial revision in committee or during the voting process. Each of the pre-filed bills received a number but also a House committee where merits and concerns will be addressed.
Should the current proposals become law, school districts will naturally respond. Until then it’s wait-and-see.
“We certainly will keep an eye on it and see how they progress,” said Mychal Frost, public information officer for Clover School District.
Some proposals wouldn’t have too great an impact locally, he said. In January the district will begin a pilot program at Oakridge Middle School for an anonymous tip line similar to what’s proposed in one bill. A mobile smartphone app is being developed, too.
The advertisements on buses Frost calls “interesting,” with a mixture of district- and state-owned buses in service. Notification of budget work for all voters would be a challenge, too, he said.
“Usually people opt-in for something like that,” he said.