At the start of this legislative session, Republican leaders warned that public education could be on the chopping block, seeing reductions that the system has historically been protected from. During a recent press conference, both House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Mitch Carmichael said they’ll work to mitigate the harm to classrooms and teachers, but funding will be reduced. The House’s Education Chairman says with those funding reductions, lawmakers are working to give county school systems more flexibility in how they spend their limited dollars.
House Bill 2569:
The House Education Committee is specifically looking for ways to give county school systems more flexibility when it comes to personnel. One way is through House Bill 2569.
When county Boards of Education need to reduce the number of teachers they have on the payroll, they are currently required to use a lottery system to determine which teachers of equal seniority will be let go. The bill removes the requirement and instead requires county boards to look at a variety of factors – qualifications, critical need, or the National Board of Certified Teachers.
“A school district that may have finally filled an AP calculus class or an advanced chemistry class with an educator may be forced to terminate that employee through a reduction in force with no consideration given to the fact that some of those positions are very, very hard to fill and in some cases it may not be the most senior person,” said House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa of Jefferson County.
Espinosa pulled the bill from the committee’s afternoon meeting Wednesday and says they will take it up on a later date.
House Bill 2738:
House Bill 2738 would also give more flexibility to public schools. The bill deals with teacher transfers.
“We believe it’s prudent to allow that school district to have the flexibility within that calendar year to move that individual, if necessary," Espinosa said, "if it really makes sense for that school district, to move them to another role where perhaps their services are more needed.”
Sponsors of the bill say it will save schools' money as enrollment changes, and it gives a school the ability to make quicker decisions when a particular role needs to be filled.
The bill passed out of committee Wednesday and heads to the full chamber.
House Bill 2637:
Another bill looking at public education flexibility is House Bill 2637. It's already passed out of the House Education Committee and was taken up by the chamber’s Finance Committee Wednesday. It allows retired teachers to return to the classroom when there’s critical need or shortages.
“It’s not one of our efficiency issues that we’re looking at," said House Finance Vice-Chair Eric Householder of Berkeley County, "but keep in mind; these retired teachers will be able to come back without any effect on their current retirement, so we’re not paying extra retirement benefits or anything like that, so I think it’s a win for the taxpayers.”
Legislative leaders announced earlier this week that the state’s public schools will see funding cuts—potentially as large as 5 percent—next year. House Finance Chair Eric Nelson says he and his colleagues will be looking closely at where those cuts fall.
"As far as the details of exactly what is coming from where; that’s the process that we’re going through right now; reviewing all three areas," Nelson said, "You know, K-12 takes up 50 percent of our 4 billion dollars budget, and we’re very concerned about the various counties and their needs.”
Lawmakers have a little over 20 more days left of this regular session to pass a balanced budget. State Revenue Officials have projected a budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year to be as large as $497 million.