Political News

SC Senate OKs bill clarifying state power for failed schools

Posted February 11, 2021 2:33 p.m. EST

South Carolina Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Great Falls, appears to appeal for additional time to speak against a bill outlining how the state Education Superintendent can take over failing school districts on Thursday, Feb. 11,2021 in Columbia, S.C. Senators limited Fanning's time to debate the bill. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

— The South Carolina Senate approved a bill Thursday clarifying the power of the state education superintendent when she takes over schools or school districts considered to be failing.

The bill had been debated on and off for more than a week and it nearly became the first test of new Senate rules to make it easier to bring issues to a vote in a body that has long respected letting senators talk as long as they wish about an issue. Successful motions to limit debate happen once a year, at most.

But with Republicans gaining three seats in the 2020 election to now have a 30-16 advantage, they passed new rules in January to make it easier to pass a cloture motion and end long debates.

Sen. Mike Fanning opposed the bill, offering a number of changes that weren't approved this week. The Democrat from Fairfield County who considers himself a champion of education was the subject of last year's lone cloture vote.

But instead of having cloture invoked again, he agreed this week to limit himself to three amendments Thursday and take five minutes each to explain them.

The bill passed Thursday would result in the firing of a local school board in cases in which the superintendent has received approval from the State Board of Education to take over a district. The governor, legislative delegation from the district's county and the superintendent would then get to appoint an interim board which serves at least three years and until the superintendent or Board of Education decides the district has improved enough to return to local control.

Current Superintendent Molly Spearman asked for the bill to get many of her current procedures into law when she takes over a failing school or district, said Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Little River.

Spearman told him that a school board allowed to stay in place after a state takeover “can be a genuine obstruction to a community that is trying to turn a school board around,” Hembree said, comparing it to a football team trying to tackle its own player.

Most of the 2021 bill was part of a bigger education bill that passed the Senate 41-4 last year before the pandemic cut the session short.

Fanning felt this year's bill took too much control away from a local board.

When his total of 15 minutes for his three amendments were up, Fanning appeared to appeal to the Senate's assistant clerk but received no additional time.

Fanning, who has complained that his fellow Democrats don't give him enough help on education issues, didn't even have fellow senators join him to ask for individual votes on his amendments. Instead, they were rejected with senators shouting "yea' or ”nay."

“We’ve already made up our minds to vote all these down and not even do the normal curtesy of raising hands for roll call votes. but I at least hope you will pretend to listen to me for a few minutes," Fanning said as his five-minute clock started on one of his amendments.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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