Wren Report: 2017 Draws to a Close

May 5, 2017

Next week is the final week of the 2017 SC Legislative Session. It has been a consequential – if not terribly productive – year in the Capital City. Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster was officially sworn in as Governor in January…and then the policy battles resumed full tilt.

As legislators prepare to return to their districts, here’s what we are watching in the last week of session:

State-Based Accountability Standards for Local Schools

Throughout the session, Palmetto Promise Institute has consistently weighed in on new school accountability standards required by President Obama’s 2015 ESSA law, the successor to No Child Left Behind.

We’ve argued that any bill that passes the General Assembly should have coherent, easily-understandable school requirements and a summative grade for each school. Only then would South Carolinians be able to take an honest look at their neighborhood school’s performance.

The recommendation adopted by the Education Oversight Committee and passed onto the General Assembly fulfilled these basic requirements, but passage by the General Assembly with minimal amendments is still needed to ensure fair ratings of South Carolina schools.

H.3969 passed the House of Representatives but awaits a final vote next week in the Senate.

Infrastructure Funding

Was it the non-stop press coverage or the blown tire that clued you into the need for a plan to fix South Carolina’s roads?

The House and the Senate have both passed a gas-tax increase, but the bills are vastly different and will need to be reconciled and pass through the General Assembly again in the next week. Even if a final bill does pass, Governor McMaster has threatened to veto any gas-tax hike, in which case the House and Senate might try to fall back on a veto-proof majority.

Even still, whether a bill passes this week or not, the hard truth is that the bills fail to address the structural problems that are the true barriers to infrastructure reform in the state of South Carolina.

Whether or not the General Assembly revisits infrastructure reform in the future will be the real test indicating how committed our elected officials are to resolving a problem that is at the heart of core government functions and economic opportunity.

Exceptional SC Becoming Permanent Law

Thousands of South Carolina families exercise education choice via ExceptionalSC, the Palmetto State’s only private education choice program. Each year, these families face the urgent concern that their choice will be taken away if ExceptionalSC is not renewed in each year’s budget. Thankfully, ExceptionalSC is set for 2017, but there is more work to do.

Late this session, Representative Garry Smith introduced a bill to make ExceptionalSC permanent law. Since this is the first year of a two-year session, the bill remains in the House and should be on the top of lawmaker’s agenda when they reconvene in 2018. Keep on the lookout!