Choice, Reading, and Four Year Olds In 2013 Legislature

S 0279 Tax Credits for Tuition — Primary Sponsor Sen.  Larry Grooms.     

Yes, there is a school tax credit bill this year. It would allow parents paying tuition to “independent schools” to take a state tax deduction of up to $4,000, and families who homeschool a child to take up to a $2,000 deduction. The bill also has provisions allowing businesses to obtain tax credits for funding their favorite private schools.
(Click here to see the full text of S0279).  

This bill was not passed by the Senate, but rather referred to the Senate Education Committee with a promise by Education Committee chairman, Senate Wes Hayes, of a “thorough vetting of the bill” and a recommendation by January 2014.  Thus, the tax credit bill was carried over the Legislative Agenda for 2013-14.   Senator Hugh Leatherman, the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, requested “a thorough study of this issue” with public hearings thorough out the state to receive citizen input.  Visits to states with similar programs are planned.

HOWEVER, in a move made on May 15, 2013:  Senator Grooms attached an amendment to the Budget bill currently located in the Senate to move his bill from the deliberation set for next fall and seeks to have the tax credits immediately added to this year’s budget.  However, if Amendment 54 passes in the Senate then it will go to the House as part of the Budget bill and will very likely be passed this year.

My Opinion:  Even if we fend off the Budget Amendment 54 we still have a large Armageddon battle before us in the fall of 2013.  I will be publicizing the dates of local hearings and updating the impact of tax credits in other states and asking again in the fall to let legislators know how poorly tax credits would support public schools.

S 0313  SC Public School Choice –Primary sponsor  Sen. Wes Hayes
The purpose is to offer students access to public schools both inside and outside their resident school district. ( For a link to the legislation click here.)First, public school districts will be required to offer various kinds of choices within their districts; such as extended day or year, Montessori, single-gender, language emphasis, etc. which parents may choose for their child regardless of particular attendance zone within that district.

All districts would also have cross district open enrollment which allows students to attend schools outside their district.  To start SC Department of Education (DOE) is to provide districts with information on various choices, best practice, staff development, etc.  A series of town meetings are to be held throughout the State and an inventory made by the Department of Education to be sure the public understands the acts purpose and choices.

A pilot program with voluntary participation would take place in 2013-2014.  No school district would be required to accept outside students in excess of 3 % of the school’s highest average daily memberships.  For any particular school outside the attendance area students must be phased in at a yearly increase of no more than 1 %.

Parents are responsible for transporting students to outside their zone schools.  However, free/reduced meal students must be transported with transportation reimbursement provided by General Assembly.  A student attending a school outside his/her district will take along all state and federal education funding to the new districts.  Districts receiving outside district students shall receive 100% of base student cost for each student accepted.  Local business taxes would stay in the sending district.  Implementation is contingent upon adequate funding by the General Assembly.

MY OPINION:  Public schools have got to change or die.  I think Senator Hayes is offering public schools a chance to change.  Rock Hill 3 schools who are “choice” schools, i.e., who offer some special emphasis such as Montessori, arts, language, etc. are drawing students.  At least a couple of our non-theme schools  have decreased enrollment.  Public school choice is a much better option than the tax credit/ voucher bill that has been repeatedly proposed to use public money to fund private schools.  S303 came out of the Senate Educational Full Committee with a favorable report with amendments on March 20.   The Amendments were adopted and it is back in the Senate Education Committee.

S 0516  Read to Succeed.       Primary Sponsor Sen. Harvey Peeler
Background:  This bill is similar to one passed under Governor Jed Bush in Florida several years ago.  The effort is supported by an Annie B. Casey report reviewing multiple studies showing that children who were not reading on grade level by third grade had a greatly decreased chance of graduating from high school.  In contrast, those who were reading on grade level at third grade, regardless of socio-economic status, had the same chance of graduating high school as any other student.

Summary of Bill:  Third graders have to demonstrate reading proficiency by the end of that year. (F0r a link to the legislation, click here.)  Those in bottom 10% on PASS (or Common Core, etc.) would be retained the following school year.  PreKindergarten and Kindergarten students would take a readiness test at school entry.  All at kindergarten through third grades would have in-class and supplemental reading intervention as needed.  At end of pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first, or second grade students struggling to read on grade level would be provided summer reading camps.  Students in Special Education or with English as a second language might be exempted. Elementary and early childhood teachers would have to take five courses to be endorsed as a literacy teacher.  Middle and high would also have increased training in teaching reading.

I can’t find anything in the bill that discusses funding and I went through it paragraph by paragraph.  Recently an article in the Herald concerning four year programs cited Senator Leatherman as saying he pledged $60 million to support that portion of such a program.

MY OPINION:  In spite of above cited Casey report there is also over 50 years of research that shows that retention by itself does not help.  For example, children who were matched in academic levels at end of grade (usually in the first three grades) and one kept back and one send on showed little to no differences in achievement at the end of the following year.  Where there were differences the child passed on performed better that the one kept back. (Research summary.)  The solution is, of course, not to let children fail in the first place.  Thus, Sen. Peeler’s details of what will be done to prevent failure in pre-K through second are the crucial part of the bill.  Much of what he’s proposing is already being done in some districts but, if the funding were there, I would support this bill.   I did not see any funding discussed in the bill.  As of May 9th it had been passed out of the Education Committee with a favorable recommendation.  The next step, I think, is a vote in the Senate.

S. 134 Child Development Ed. Program — Sponsor:  Sen. Vincent Sheheen

Background.  In 2006 a federal judge ordered the state of South Carolina to provide more adequate Kindergarten programs for children residing in the most impoverished counties of South Carolina.  These districts with 80 to over 90 percent of impoverished pre-school students on free/reduced lunch have been part of a trial program increasing funds for pre-school education.  Most districts now offer some four year old programs but most are half day.  Rock Hill now has seven elementary schools offering half day programs plus multiple four year programs at child development center

Summary of Bill    Sen. Sheheen’s bill would create a full day, four-year old kindergarten program for at-risk students in all public school districts in SC.  (For a link to the legislation, click here.) Any family whose income qualifies them for free/reduced lunch may enroll their four year old in either a public or private four year old program.  Transportation is provided for public or private providers within the child’s district.  Teachers in private pre-schools must have a two year degree in early childhood.  Those in public schools must meet four year degree state certification requirements.

My Opinion  The need for this program is strong.  Learning to read by grade three is crucial to a child’s later success.  The program will give 4 year olds an immersion in language and books they might not otherwise have.  As always, the level of the teachers’ skill is crucial which calls into question the lower level of education require by private preschools.  Sheheen’s bill has gained bipartisan support in the last few weeks including a promise of at least $20 million in the budget from Leatherman, Chair of Senate Finance.  Since its intent is to include additional poorer districts, it is not clear that it would directly benefit Rock Hill Schools

 

None of these bills have been passed by the Senate and thus did not “pass over” to the House in time for their consideration this year.  However, if Amendment 54 passes then it will go to the House as part of the Budget bill and will very likely be passed this year.    The other bills will be back next year since this is the first of a two year session.  We will hear more about them and have time to express support or opposition in the months to come.

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