Educated Citizens: 2023-24 Freedom Agenda in Review

June 17, 2024

Palmetto Promise Team

Now that the General Assembly has adjourned sine die, we are taking a look back at the 23 policies Palmetto Promise proposed in the 2023-24 Palmetto Freedom Agenda at the beginning of the legislative session. Did our Freedom Agenda policies make it into law? Or, at the very least, did they start a conversation that future General Assemblies can act upon? 

Today, we look at the seven policies proposed under our Educated Citizens category. 

As a reminder, each policy is marked with one of four symbols to match its status ✅ = signed into law, 📝= conference report pending, ⌛ = passed one chamber but fell short, ❌ = no movement. 

Without further ado, let’s dive into these education policies! 


1. Enact Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs)

Act 8 (2023) was undoubtedly one of the most significant wins of the legislative session (and our readers recently voted it as the biggest win in Palmetto Promise history!). After a long-fought battle and nearly a decade of advocacy from PPI, South Carolina finally got an education scholarship account (ESA) law on the books. This school choice program, passed in the latter days of the spring 2023 session, was met with resounding enthusiasm from South Carolinians.  

During the two-month application window earlier this year, the SC Department of Education received an incredible 7,907 applications from students representing every single county in the state, even despite the obstacles of eligibility limitations and a pending legal challenge. This program can make a big difference in the lives of so many South Carolina children and families. A bill to make ESAs universal passed the House in spring 2024 but did not receive a subcommittee hearing on the Senate side. We are hopeful, however, that proposed budget provisos will clean up some logistical challenges with the program and that the General Assembly will make ESA expansion to universal a top priority in 2025! 


2. Adopt Parents’ Bill of Rights 📝

Legislation to specifically enact a Parents’ Bill of Rights in South Carolina (like H.3197, S.234, and H.3485) did not make it out of their originating chambers this session. However, much of the language and premises proposed by such legislation was included in the South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act (H.3728), which passed both chambers and now awaits a Conference Committee decision. The bill requires full transparency in school curricula and sets in place a standardized procedure for complaints about inappropriate classroom content, giving parents full access to all materials used in their child’s classroom. This bill would be a tremendous win for parental rights in our state, and we hope to build on it in coming sessions to establish more protections for parental rights in state law. A State Department of Education regulation on age-appropriateness in curriculum materials is another parent rights measure that saw movement. That regulation is expected to take effect this year as well. 


3. Allow Open Enrollment

Palmetto Promise firmly believes that all families should have a choice in their children’s education—whether private, home, or public school. Open enrollment, also known as public school choice, is a step toward making all public education options available to everyone. Right now, wealthy parents can buy a home in the “right” school district and zone, and by law their child will have a seat. Most low- and moderate-income parents do not have that option, even for schools with open seats. H.3843, which passed the House but unfortunately died in the Senate, would require all public schools in the state to adopt open enrollment policies. Our team has heard from parents that open enrollment is a top priority for them, and we intend to heed their call and go full steam ahead for public school choice legislation in 2025.  


4. Create Salary Bands ❌

Teachers deserve to be paid according to their performance and skill, rather than just their time in the job. A newer teacher may incorporate innovative teaching methods that far outpace veteran teachers, who, under the current system, are paid far more than teachers with less time in their pay grade. Good teachers deserve to be paid better than mediocre ones!  The adoption of salary bands, would award pay raises based on multiple factors, including time as a teacher but also effectiveness. The 2024 state budget gives a significant boost in pay for all teachers’ starting salaries, which is a great step toward paying teachers like the professionals they are. We hold that the institution of salary bands is the great next step toward an effective salary model. 


5. Stream School Board Meetings

Livestreaming school board meetings should be a no-brainer. It has become a basic tenet of a democratic system that citizens should be able to watch their representatives in action. Citizens can always attend public school board meetings in person, but in the internet era, there is no reason school boards should not be able to stream their meetings online to be as transparent as possible. Palmetto Promise is a partner in the Carolinas Academic Leadership Network precisely because of the ongoing issues we’ve seen with school board dysfunction and lack of transparency in this state. We were encouraged to see S.134 pass the Senate in early 2023 and anticipated a quick passage in the House. Unfortunately, the House Education Committee did not take up the bill until April 30, 2024, a whole 14 months after its committee referral. By the time S.134 made it onto the House calendar, it became a casualty of the last-minute flurry of legislation.  


6. Encourage The Chicago Statement

South Carolina’s institutions of higher education should protect free speech, particularly in light of recent events on college campuses across the nation. To that end, we believe that all universities in the state should adopt the Chicago Statement of Free Principles (so far, the Citadel, Winthrop, Coastal, Clemson, USC, and Furman have done so, in that order). This spring, a bill passed the South Carolina House that would have effectively required this for all the state’s public colleges and universities. The legislation banned all political tests for university employees, ensured that all employees and students could not be discriminated against based on the content of their speech and codified their right to spontaneous free speech. Unfortunately, the bill did not receive a hearing in the Senate Education Committee before sine die. 


7. Expand Teaching and Learning

This broad Freedom Agenda item saw lots of progress in the 2023-24 legislative session. In terms of expanding teaching, we were glad to see S.125 signed into law, which extends the existing SC Life and Palmetto Fellows scholarship stipend for STEM students (an additional $2,500-$3,300 per year) to college students that major in education and will go on to teach in SC schools. Such a scholarship boost goes a long way toward addressing teacher shortages by encouraging more high-achieving South Carolina students to choose education as their profession. H.3908, signed into law in 2023, ensures that school district employees can enjoy paid parental leave upon adopting or fostering a child.  Several other bills to expand teacher recruitment and retention did not make it through both chambers in time.  

Student learning options were expanded this year with the passage of H.3295, which allows the adoption of competency-based education models. Under this law, a school district can adopt a model where a student is allowed to “master competencies along a personalized and flexible pathway.” In plain English that means a student would be judged on mastery of content, not seat time. We are pleased to see this new option for South Carolina schools, and we hope to see broad adoption of this route toward individualized education for every student. Another win came through S.418, which expands the state’s Read to Succeed program, modeled off Florida’s successful initiative to equip teachers and surround struggling readers with the focus and coaching they need to move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”  Palmetto Promise was one of the initial advocates of Read to Succeed in South Carolina and we are confident that students and teachers alike will benefit from this expansion passed in the 2023-24 legislative session. 

See how all our Freedom Agenda policies fared this legislative session in our summary post, and make sure you read our blog every day this week as we release one post per day summarizing the status of our Freedom Agenda policies.