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South Carolina Lawmakers Adopt Deregulation Plan

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Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. of South Carolina is expected to sign legislation that would give an unprecedented degree of regulatory relief to about one-quarter of the state's public schools.

Under the measure, schools with a record of superior academic achievement would be released from compliance with numerous state rules, "including, but not limited to, regulations and statutory provisions on class scheduling, class structure, and staffing."

When preliminary drafts of the measure were released by the Governor and state lawmakers earlier this year, national experts said they appeared to represent one of the most ambitious attempts yet made by a state to encourage school restructuring, both in terms of the number of schools affected and in the array of regulations that would be eased. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1989.)

Senate staff members estimate that between 250 and 300 of the4state's 1,100 schools will be able to qualify for the special status.

The flexibility provision was only one part of a nearly $10-million education package that is seen as a sequel to the state's widely hailed Education Improvement Act of 1984.

Included in the bill are provisions to create a pilot parent-education program, at a cost of $1.3 million, and a $5.2-million pilot dropout-prevention program.

"Essentially, what we wanted to do was maintain the integrity of schools that had made themselves successful," said Mary Willis, an aide to Governor Campbell who8helped draft his proposal. "Right now, I think the bill is even better than what we orginally intended."

Eligibility Requirements

Under the bill, schools would be eligible for this special status if, during two of the prior three years, their students' gains on two sets of standardized tests placed them in apel15lproximately the top quarter of schools with similar socioeconomic characteristics; students in their remedial programs met minimum testing requirements; they exhibited no recurring accreditation deficiencies; and their test scores improved annually at above-average rates.

For schools to maintain their flexibility status, their students' test-score gains must continue to rise above the state average, and they must continue to meet baseline testing requirements for remedial education.

The bill does not specify which regulations would be waived for such schools. Instead, it directs the state board of education, in consultation with the joint education-business group that oversees the implementation of the eia, to develop guidelines for the program by Dec. 1.

Kent Phillips, the associate state superintendent for the division of instruction, said the state board would probably give very wide latitude to schools that qualify for flexibility status.

But some issues--such as the ability of a school to assign teachers to classes for which they are not certified--may be more problematic for the state board, he added.

The bill would not provide additional funding to schools that receive this status. Under an existing program, the state rewards schools that meet some of the testing standards in the bill with additional per-pupil aid.

The bill, however, would earmark $1.6 million for a new competitive-grant program for schools that wish to implement innovative programs. It directs the state board to consider waiving regulations for schools that win the grants.

Other Provisons

Other provisions of the bill would:

Require all districts to offer half-day early-childhood-development programs to "at risk" 4-year-olds.

Expand the state's remedial-education program to grades 7 through 10, and the arts-education program.

The measure also calls on the state education department to emphasize higher-order thinking skills in standardized tests, teacher-training programs, and curricula.

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