In an effort to help local school districts save money, legislators are moving forward with several pieces of legislation that, when added together, could result in major changes for K-12 education in South Carolina.
One bill currently on the House floor would let districts opt out of some state regulations. The House could take up the bill as soon as Tuesday. Rep. Dan Cooper (R-Anderson) is leading the effort. He says there are several mandates the state requires that cost schools extra money for additional teachers and other faculty.
It’s hard to cut expenses when your biggest expenses are… salaries. You’ve got to have all of these people there who may, or may not, be classroom-related. You can free some of that up. That’s the thinking behind it.
He said the state has given school districts special exemptions over the past two years, but he and others want to make it permanent law. Under the bill, districts would apply for permission from the state Department of Education to exempt themselves from certain regulations, such as physical education or requiring certified teachers in non-core classes.
Legislators are also revamping a 30-year-old funding formula used to distribute money to districts. Both Republicans and Democrats agree the current Education Finance Act requirements are outdated and need to change. The House passed a bill in early March that would simplify how the EFA funds districts, by eliminating lines in the budget and giving more to schools in five lump sums. That proposed change has already passed the House and is currently in the Senate.
Cooper and other legislators are looking to change how some students progress through high school. Right now, all students have to complete 24 credit units in order to graduate. However, Cooper said that was designed for students going to college.
He said officials are looking to create an alternative track for students who don’t plan to go to a four-year school.
For kids who just want to go straight to work, or want to go to (technical college), or learn a trade, they can get a 20-unit diploma. That saves some money… for the districts, but it also would help with kids who drop out. They might go if they’ve only got to get 20 (credit units), instead of 24, to finish their degree.
He said legislators are also looking at creating a new diploma for special needs students, who are only presented with a “certificate of attendance” at the end of their high-school careers, regardless of how far they advance.
They’re counted as dropouts, because they didn’t get a diploma… It would be a different diploma than the other two. That doesn’t really save a lot of money, but it’s something that’s meaningful to those students and their families.
Supporters of this “modified diploma” hope it will provide more useful job training for some special needs students.