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Department of Education Study

South Carolina law requires the General Assembly to conduct legislative oversight studies and investigations of state agencies and commissions at least once every seven years. The House Legislative Oversight Committee (LOC) was created to ensure that this requirement was met. 

Within the LOC, there are different subcommittees created to facilitate the investigations into specific agencies and report the results of the investigations to the full LOC.  These investigations determine if agency laws and programs are being implemented and put into practice in accordance with the intent of the General Assembly and whether or not they should be continued, curtailed or even eliminated. Once an agency report is published, any House Member may file legislation to implement the Legislative Oversight Committee’s recommendations.

This week, the Education and Cultural Affairs subcommittee of the Legislative Oversight Committee initiated its review of the South Carolina Department of Education. The state Superintendent of Education, Molly Spearman, presented her agency’s initial report to the subcommittee.

A few random observations, not given in any particular order of importance:

Our meeting packet contained approximately 100 pages out which 25 pages consisted of a glossary of acronyms used by the Department of Education. Within the list of 1,000 acronyms, there were close to 200 associated with organizations that have an interest in the Department of Education. As a sampling, the top ten organizations whose titles begin with “National” or “South Carolina” are as follows:

National Assessment of Adult Literacy

National Art Education Association

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth 

National Adult Education Honor Society

National Assessment of Educational Progress

South Carolina Association for Adult and Continuing Education

South Carolina Association of Adult Education Directors

South Carolina Association of Attendance Supervisors

South Carolina Association of Black School Educators

South Carolina Art Education Association

Would a South Carolina art teacher gain more from being a member of the National Art Education Association versus the South Carolina Art Education Association? 

As I read through the list of various special interest groups or “stakeholders” as they preferred to be called, I was reminded that “silo mentality” was a major problem preventing the Legislature’s effort to reform public education. After seeing the list of special interest groups, I think that the “silos” in question are more of the nuclear missile variety than those used to hold grain.

I was surprised about the lack of citizenry in attendance at the hearing. There were less than ten people observing when the subcommittee chairman gaveled us to order at 10:30 am. We broke for lunch and no one from the audience came back. Maybe we should have sent someone from the SC Association of Attendance Supervisors after them.

I was relieved to hear Superintendent Spearman say that more money was not the answer to reforming our public education system. She stated that we were not getting our money’s worth in some instruction areas, especially in reading instruction. In fact, making sure that our students learn to read in the early grades of elementary school was cited as a major concern. 

My relief was short-lived. I was disturbed to hear Superintendent Spearman say (4:44:25) that the General Assembly’s Republican leadership was considering a statewide property tax millage as a way to redistribute tax dollars to those school districts that do not generate enough property tax income to finance their schools.

Yep. You read it correctly . . . a statewide property tax. Maybe we won’t need call that person from the SC Association of Attendance Supervisors to fill the audience the next time that we hold a hearing.

The subcommittee will sit again on October 31, 2019.