On March 5, 2020, the South Carolina Senate voted to amend the Code of Laws of South Carolina of 1976 and enact S419 “South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act.” The amendments in the new legislation appear to be driven by the State’s economic interests to retain existing and attract new industry. As reported by the Upstate Business Journal in July 2018, the region’s increasing proficiency in several subsectors — advanced materials, aerospace, automotive, bioscience, and energy — continues to attract investment and jobs from new and expanding companies. “It’s impossible to overstate the role that manufacturing has played in transforming the economy of both the Upstate and South Carolina as a whole,” said S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt. “With the rise of complex manufacturing, our state and our workforce have built a reputation as a global-brand state — a state that not only makes things but makes them well,” he added. “This reputation continues to attract industry leaders from around the world who now view South Carolina as an industrial powerhouse.”
The antecedent to the achievement of the State’s goal is a high-quality educational system. The results reflected in the 2019 South Carolina Report Card point to a potential shortage in the pipeline for qualified and highly skilled workers that could adversely impact legislative interests. Only 45.4% and 45.1% of third through eighth grade students, respectively, meet or exceed grade level standards in mathematics and English language arts. During the same timeframe, only 38.9% of high school graduates demonstrated they were college and career ready. In spite of these results, South Carolina continues to attract global industrial players such as BMW, Michelin, Boeing, Ricoh and Volvo (to name a few), thus increasing the pressure to translate legislation into results.
The new legislation embeds executive and administrative oversight of the State Department of Education. The Senate bill (S419) restructures the Education Oversight Committee and creates a new ‘Zero to Twenty’ committee to provide executive branch oversight of programs targeted to learners in these age groups. The modifications in S419 – to teacher work days and baseline salary, expansion and alignment of Career Pathways curricula, emphasis on Computer Science, the elimination of social studies state assessment, measures to add literacy reading endorsements for all instructional staff, teacher certification waivers for high performing districts and alternative certification pathways for licensure – respond to some, but not all of the Palmetto Teacher’s Association’s and SC for ED’s agendas and offers only structural answers to a systemic challenge.
This legislation follows previous attempts to reform rather than transform an educational system that to date has failed in its attempts to impact equity and support best practice innovations in student learning, especially for the State’s most disadvantaged students. It will be interesting to observe how the new legislation navigates the underlying interests and agendas of the sub-groups and administer a code of laws that will have real and sustainable impact to achieve the 2030 goal and improve the lives of all students and families in South Carolina.