S.C. sess⁠i⁠on recap: Educa⁠t⁠⁠i⁠on b⁠i⁠lls ⁠t⁠ha⁠t⁠ d⁠i⁠d (and d⁠i⁠dn’⁠t⁠) pass 

May 14, 2024

Bryce Fiedler

CALN Founding Member & CALN Board of Directors Secretary

I am not the first to point out that the theme of this year’s legislative session in South Carolina might have more to do with the bills that didn’t pass than those that did, and this is particularly true for bills affecting education.  

Indeed, at least five substantial education bills, all of which passed in at least one legislative chamber, have failed to become law this session—ranging from an expansion to South Carolina’s newly enacted ESA program, to a pair of bills seeking to address our growing teacher shortage.

Passed or still in play

First, let’s quickly review what did pass and what remains in play. In March, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster signed legislation to bolster the state Read to Succeed law—a measure enacted in 2014 to ensure reading proficiency among students by third grade. Among other changes, the initial law set up third-grade summer reading camps to help struggling students. Building on that policy, Read to Succeed 2.0 will extend these camps to first- and second-grade students, providing additional support to help keep readers on track from an early age.

Meanwhile, a bill that is near the finish line looks to deliver on many policies supported by South Carolina parents. The Transparency and Integrity in Education Act would prohibit harmful concepts, such as the idea that a person’s moral character is determined by their race, ethnicity or national origin, from being part of any K-12 curriculum. It would also require all learning materials, including library books, to be age and grade appropriate. Starting next school year, the bill says, districts would need to list their approved textbooks (with brief summaries for each) on their websites. And finally, parents would be entitled to a syllabus for every course that describes its topics, classroom expectations, textbooks, and any other reading materials.  

House and Senate lawmakers could not agree to a final bill in 2023, so it was sent to conference committee. The next conference meeting is set for June 5. If members are able to negotiate and strike a compromise, the bill will likely see a vote next month in special session.  

Did not pass 

Although they passed in at least one chamber, the following bills came up short and will have to restart their journeys next year (assuming they are re-filed). 

  • Statewide open enrollment (H.3843) – Requires all S.C. school boards to adopt an open enrollment policy using a template developed by the state Department of Education. This would allow students to enroll in schools outside their normal attendance zones, even in other districts. To ensure flexibility, individual school boards would set policy details based on local factors. Presently, some S.C. districts allow for intradistrict open enrollment, but most do not. Final verdict: Passed the House in 2023 – did not receive a committee hearing in the Senate. 
     
  • Non-certified teacher pilot program (S.124) – Allows a school meeting one of the following criteria can hire a limited number of non-certified teachers: 1) The school has received a rating of “Excellent,” “Below Average,” or “Unsatisfactory” for two consecutive years on its report card; or 2) The school is in a critical geographic area. Non-certified teachers must have a suitable bachelor’s or graduate degree and at least five years of relevant work experience. In the wake of urgent staffing shortages, this measure aims to give schools more flexibility and widen the candidate pool for teachers, while ensuring that hired educators possess suitable qualifications. Final verdict: Despite passing in both chambers, the House and Senate could not reconcile differences between their versions of the bill, leaving it stalled.  
     
  • Counting prior experience to raise teacher pay (S.305) – Allows prior work experience to be counted when an educator is seeking a teaching certificate, so long as it is in a related field. This would bump them up the teacher salary schedule and entitle them to higher pay. Current teachers could also apply to have their pay increased based on prior experience. Final verdict: Despite passing in both chambers, the House and Senate could not reconcile differences between their versions of the bill, leaving it stalled. 
     
  • Education Scholarship Account (ESA) expansion (H.5164) – Expands South Carolina’s newly enacted ESA program in at least two significant ways. First, it would remove all household income restrictions starting in the 2026-27 school year, opening the door to students of all financial backgrounds. Second, it would repeal the cap on enrollment (currently fixed at 15,000 students by full implementation) by school year 2027-28. The ESA, enacted last year, offers scholarships to eligible families covering a wide range of K-12 expenses. These include private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring services, computers, and even transportation for their children to attend other schools (including public schools). Final verdict: Passed the House in 2024 – did not receive a committee hearing in the Senate. 
     
  • Livestreaming school board meetings (S.134) – Requires all local S.C. school boards to livestream their public meetings. To effectuate this, local school boards would need to adopt a livestream policy using a framework developed by the S.C. State Board of Education. It should be noted that most school boards currently broadcast their meetings online. The law would mainly serve as a guarantee of current practice. Final verdict: Passed the Senate in 2023 – advanced out of House committee but was not taken for a vote in the full body.  
     

Special session 

State lawmakers will meet in special session this June to finish work on a few outstanding items, such as the budget and bills in conference committee. They are limited to a short list of topics outlined in this year’s sine die resolution.  

However, there are rumblings in Columbia of a possible plan to amend the rules so lawmakers can take up a bill once thought dead (though it is not related to education). Governor McMaster is publicly calling for the bill’s resurrection. If this happens, it could open the door for efforts to revive other legislation that nearly crossed the finish line. Whether that would include education bills is uncertain.