Good news for early education -- kind of
Senate, House struggle with competing 4K bills
By Bill Davis, senior editorAPRIL 11, 2014 -- Like a nervous toddler, the General Assembly is poised to take another half-step toward expanding statewide early education for kindergartners.
The House and the Senate this week passed bills supporting an education reform package, “Read to Succeed” that ties third-grade reading achievement to advancement to the next grade.
The House passed a clean version of the measure, focusing solely on a package pushed by the GOP leadership, according to House Education Committee chairman Rep. Phil Owens (R-Easley).
In the Senate, the politically-popular Read to Succeed program, first authored by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler (R-Gaffney) and then pushed by Gov. Nikki Haley, became broader. It was combined into a bill that would make 4-year-old kindergarten available statewide to at-risk children. Currently, 54 of the state’s 81 school districts offer public 4K programs, which is up from 37 districts last year.
The 4K programs, however, that were added last year in 17 school districts were funded for one year, not with recurring dollars. That meant the programs in those districts were to be up for debate every legislative session. The Senate bill would move the program’s funding -- plus funding for the remaining 27 districts -- into the recurring column of the budget.
But there’s an interesting wrinkle. The Senate version would only provide the recurring dollars if those dollars were available, which means that 4K programs could disappear during a recession, such as the Great Recession that South Carolina is still clambering out of.
“And who’s to say when there’s enough money?” asked Owens.
Similarly, the House budget plan, now being reviewed in the Senate, does not include any funding for expanded 4K.
A tough run
Kindergarten for 4-year-olds has had a tough run in South Carolina.
In 2006, S.C. Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Cooper Jr. ruled in Abbeville v. South Carolina that the state must mitigate the lack of equal education in poor districts access across the state by creating a 4K program.
The ruling, which has since been appealed to the S.C. Supreme Court, did not include a method for funding, or scope, or its administration. As the state’s Supreme Court has yet to rule on the case initially filed in 1993, it has remained a political football.
Begun as a pilot program in some of the poorest counties least able to contribute to their own public education systems, 4K has grown by fits and starts.
The Senate version would combine the 4K expansion with Read to Succeed, which includes holding back struggling third-graders in yearlong reading academies. It also includes pushing for higher literacy scores through reading coaches, which is borrowed, in part, from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education initiatives.
Currently, the state spends close to $44 million on the existing 4K program, through First Steps and the S.C. Child Development Education Program, according to state budget figures. And according to Sen. Wes Hayes (R-Rock Hill) who chairs the education subcommittee for Finance, expansion and full implementation across all districts would cost an additional $26 million -- the same amount that state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) pushed the legislature to add last year.
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. John Courson (R-Columbia), chair of the Education Committee, described himself as a “strong supporter” of linking 4K-expansion with Read to Succeed.
Courson said the state can either “pay up on the front end or pay up on the back end” with bigger prison populations.
Courson’s argument has been one echoed for years in education and policy circles: kids who do poorly in school, especially in earlier grades, have a higher statistical chance of dropping out of school later on, and then being incarcerated.
State Rep. Mike Anthony (D-Union), who dropped out of the race for superintendent of education in late March, said the Senate is attempting to get support for 4K-expansion in the House by linking it to the politically-popular Read to Succeed program.
But he worries that his colleagues in the House may not be interested in reopening hard-fought deals from last year’s budget debate that cemented 4K for another year.
Owens said while there was a “flavor” in the House’s mouth for 4K expansion, he said his fellow representatives would prefer to handle the issue separately from Read to Succeed.
And some speculate that could doom the measure for this session, which is rapidly winding down.
Bill Davis is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
RECENT NEWS STORIES
Waring statue to be unveiled today
The late U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring of Charleston is being honored 2 p.m. today with a statue that is a fitting remembrance for his huge role in ending segregation. Learn more | Read Andy Brack's new column on Waring below and another recent one in Huffington Post. Photo by Kaynard Photography.
Light week ahead
Next week will be a light legislative week.
First, the House won’t meet, as it is on furlough on the week before and after Easter. Second, the Senate will meet for just two days -- Tuesday and Wednesday. On tap on the floor is a measure that would unify county boards of election and registration. While many already are unified, this would allow the state to take care of lingering problems in voting, such as the 2012 debacle in Richland County.
In Senate committees:
- Finance. The committee will continue work on the state budget.
- Medical Affairs. A subcommittee will meet 9 a.m. Wednesday in 207 Gressette to consider a House bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Agenda.
- DSS Oversight. The committee will meet 9 a.m. Wednesday in 308 Gressette to hear long-awaited testimony from embattled Department of Social Services Director Lillian B. Koller. The hearing will be broadcast live online.
Look for new polling results Wednesday
A new Winthrop Poll will be out Wednesday with results that will offer insights on everything from the job performance of President Barack Obama and the state’s two U.S. senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, to people’s opinions of Gov. Nikki Haley, the General Assembly and more.
Group warns about beach protections
The Conservation Voters of South Carolina is warning that 25 years of beach protection policy could be rolled back “because one small community of homeowners in DeBordieu has decided they no longer want to be subject to the law.”
The group says debate is expected to start April 15 on the amendment to the Beachfront Management Act. As the bill (S. 890) originally was proposed, it would have made helpful changes, the organization said. “Unfortunately, the bill now includes a short-sighted, special-interest exemption to the ‘no new seawalls’ policy the state has wisely upheld since 1988,” according to an action alert.
Campaign to celebrate 20th anniversary
Supporters of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy will hold a 20th anniversary celebration May 7 to commemorate its success to reduce teen pregnancies by 47 percent over two decades.
“The South Carolina Campaign’s greatest asset is our people,” said CEO Forrest Alton on a video about the event.
Among the 21 honorees are founder Joy Campbell of Columbia, former state Sen. Greg Ryberg, state Rep. James Smith, state superintendent of education candidate Molly Spearman, former state superintendent Inez Tenenbaum.
Among the highlights will be artist Jonathan Green, who will sign a limited edition poster that commemorates the event.
- The black-tie event is 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. May 7 at the Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St., Columbia. Tickets are $100. More.
Waring’s impact big on South Carolina politics, too
By Andy Brack, editor and publisherAPRIL 11, 2014 -- The same South Carolina federal judge whose dissent framed the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision to end school segregation also had a long impact on South Carolina politics.
The late U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, an eighth-generation Charlestonian finally being honored today with the unveiling of a statue commemorating his courage and legacy, is generally lauded for his 1951 dissent in a Clarendon County civil rights case, Briggs v. Elliott. He was the first federal judge to write that segregation was unconstitutional since the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision by the U.S. Supreme Court case that enabled institutionalized segregation through a ruling that public facilities could be “separate but equal.”
The Briggs dissent, however, wasn’t why Waring became a pariah in his hometown. It was just the icing on the cake. Waring became an outcast socially by divorcing his wife of 32 years and then promptly marrying a Northerner. But he became loathed by many throughout the state after he struck down the all-white Democratic primary in a 1947 ruling.
In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an all-white primary in Texas. But South Carolina’s leaders didn’t cotton to that decision and thought they could skirt it by stripping the state’s legal code of any mention of the world “primary.” As writer Richard Kluger described in “Simple Justice,” state legislators repealed 150 statutes “on the theory that no court could thereafter hold that a primary election was ‘state action’ if there were no state laws on the books that said a word about primaries.” In practice, little changed and the all-white Democratic primary essentially became a private club for white voters. And blacks couldn’t join the club.
But a Columbia man then challenged the state’s new system. And leaders ran smack into Waties Waring, who had increasingly delivered moderate decisions in a state that didn’t want them.
Waring applied the ruling in the Texas case to South Carolina and ordered the end of the all-white primary. He wrote:
“It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union,. It is time to fall in step with the other states and to adopt the American way of conducting elections ... Racial distinctions cannot exist in the machinery that selects the officers and lawmakers of the United States.”
In spite of an appellate ruling that upheld Waring’s decision, South Carolina’s leaders tried again to keep its closed primary, the only election that really mattered then according to historian Jack Bass. This time, state Democratic leaders decided to require voters to take an oath that they supported state’s rights and separate but equal schools.
In a year that would find Gov. Strom Thurmond run for president as a Dixiecrat to maintain the segregated status quo, the ploy by state Democratic leaders to keep blacks out of the primary didn’t work. Waring pointedly told state leaders he would not allow the nation’s law to be violated. He told Democratic county chairmen that they would face a contempt citation and a fine or jail if they didn’t properly register black voters just like white voters.
And so, that was that. Some 35,000 newly-registered blacks voted for the first time. Interestingly, about 90 percent of them -- 8 percent of the electorate, Bass writes -- voted to reelect Burnet Maybank, who had been mayor of Charleston when Waring was the city’s attorney. In the 1948 Senate race, Maybank had four challengers. Thanks to the black vote, he was able to squeak through the primary without a runoff.
Waring’s election ruling in 1948 had long impacts. Because state leaders stripped the law books of mentions of primaries, political parties ran primaries until 1992, a job at which they weren’t particularly adept. Polls sometimes didn’t open. Workers didn’t show up -- if there were enough of them at all.
In 2008, the state started running presidential preference primaries. And just last year, the state took over the role of registering candidates.
Bottom line: It took South Carolina almost as long to run its primary elections professionally as it did to recognize the courage and legacy of Waties Waring, once described as the “lonesomest man in town.”
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. You can reach Brack at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Improving transparency site is never-ending challengeBy Richard Eckstrom
S.C. Comptroller General
Special to Statehouse Report
APRIL 11, 2014 -- There’s a lot of talk these days about private citizens feeling that government doesn’t understand their concerns and that political decisions often cater to special interests over their personal interests. Some say this makes them feel suspicious, even cynical.
In this time of growing tension between governments and the citizens they govern, government reformers are developing new tools to better communicate with citizens and to connect them with the governing process.
Of course, the Internet helps a lot in this regard.
My agency, the Comptroller General’s Office, has developed an easy-to-use online tool for interested citizen to use to track state government spending with the click of a mouse. We call this tool the S.C. Fiscal Transparency Website, and it’s all about helping people hold government officials more accountable for how they spend public money.
The heart of the site is a mammoth database that contains spending transactions between 80-plus agencies and thousands of vendors. But the Transparency Website has many other components, too, including monthly reports of purchases made using state charge cards; and pages with links to the online check registers of every school district and state-supported colleges and universities in South Carolina.
“Transparency” is often thrown around as a buzzword in government circles today. You’ve probably heard it used, and you might even know about our Transparency Website. But new ideas and methods of transparency are constantly developing and we’re constantly seeking ways to improve our site. After all, today’s best practices in transparency are far more advanced than when we launched the state’s first Transparency Website in early 2008.
We’ve recently added several new features to the site. These new features make our site more informative and user-friendly for anyone, whether a concerned citizen monitoring government spending or a member of the media conducting in-depth research.
Unlike transparency websites in many states, we haven’t sought any additional money to develop and maintain this site, relying instead on our in-house staff and existing resources. Here are some of our recent key improvements to the site and how they’re helpful:
- State spending: This database has two new search features. One allows users to search and view payments to vendors for all state agencies combined. Previously a vendor search could be performed only agency-by-agency, rather than in a single statewide search as is now possible. The other new search feature allows users to examine each agency’s annual spending by selecting major categories like personal services, office supplies, travel and many others.
- State contracts: A wealth of state contracting information already was available through the state Procurement Services Division website, but folks need to know how to find what they’re looking for. Our improved Transparency Website’s new State Contracts page provides a road map for navigating this information.
- Local governments: The site also features a page containing links to check registers of many cities and counties and to all school districts in South Carolina. We’ve increased the number of participating cities and counties across the state by reaching out and helping them as they join the transparency movement.
- Economic development subsidies: This is one of the biggest new frontiers in transparency, but it’s also an area where South Carolina has been lacking because state law prohibits disclosing specific economic development benefits provided to companies. We feel the state should be disclosing, at a minimum, the return on investment to taxpayers – measured by additional jobs created and private capital invested – in exchange for the economic development subsidies to a private company. Using the most recent information publicly available, we’ve compiled and added two searchable and downloadable reports to the Transparency Website. These two reports provide details on state grants from the Governor’s Closing Fund and on projects approved for state job development tax credits.
- For a summary of all Transparency Website upgrades click here.
I invite you to visit the site and provide your feedback on how to improve it. An easy way to do so is through a Citizen Input form accessible through the Comptroller General’s Office website.
We’ll continue to improve the Transparency Website and look for ways to make government in South Carolina more transparent at all levels. It’s a challenge that never ends.
Richard Eckstrom, a CPA, is the comptroller general of South Carolina and commander of the S.C. State Guard.
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From Colbert to Fair
Colbert. Hooray for Charlestonian Stephen Colbert, who will be charging up the air waves an hour earlier (11:35 p.m.) next year when he takes over David Letterman’s late night gig.
4K education. You’re almost there, legislature. Do the right thing and finally approve recurring funding for at-risk kids across the state for early childhood education.
Texting ban. Keep the proposal for a statewide texting ban moving forward. Don’t let it be a casualty of the session.
Film fest. Hats off to Columbia filmmaker Bud Ferillo, whose new “When the Bough Breaks” debuts at the Indie Grits Festival this weekend in Columbia. Statehouse Report first reported news about the film, which pushes early literacy efforts.
Oakley. Welcome to Janet Oakley of Maryland, the newly-appointed, cabinet-level director of the state Department of Transportation. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Edisto. It’s good news that the Edisto River is getting some national attention. But it’s bad news that the attention is for being one of the nation’s most endangered waterways. More.
Conflict of interest. Maybe a new bill for legislators to be able to influence special prosecutions of constitutional officers isn’t a such a good idea. Kind of looks like an overt political threat to Attorney General Alan Wilson by allies of House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who is embroiled in a corruption probe led by Wilson.
Fair. Memo to state Sen. Mike Fair: Eliminate the word “Hitler” from your vocabulary. It’s not smart to compare anything to the monster. More.