Education Funding

South Carolina Schools Chief Blasts Draft Pension Rules

By Sean Cavanagh — February 07, 2012 2 min read
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Comments are rolling in on a controversial notice of proposed federal rules that may, or may not, affect charter school pensions, and South Carolina schools Superintendent Mick Zais is, to say the least, not a fan of the suggested changes.

In a letter to the Internal Revenue Service, Zais, an elected Republican, invoked Ronald Reagan and denounced government intrusiveness in arguing that the rules would imperil the retirement security of charter school employees.

“President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’ ” Zais wrote in a Feb. 6 letter to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner and IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman.

“On the 101st anniversary of his birth, proposed regulations by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service perfectly exemplify President Reagan’s concerns about government overreach.”

As we reported late last week, an advance notice of proposed rulemaking from the Treasury Department and IRS have drawn strong objections from charter school advocates, who say charter school employees could be prevented from participating in state pension plans.

The deadline for submitting public comments originally was Feb. 6, but federal officials recently extended it until June.

[UPDATE: A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education said late Monday that agency staff are planning to have a conversation with Treasury Department officials about the notice of proposed rules, and what they mean.]

South Carolina has 47 charter schools. It permits, but does not require, charter employees to participate in the state’s retirement system, Zais explained. The South Carolina schools chief has been a vocal critic of federal involvement in education, including the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which has drawn the praise of elected officials from both parties.

The Obama administration has been a strong backer of charter schools, a position Zais acknowledges in his letter, which offers kudos to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his work in that area.

But also Zais also concluded with another shot at the feds, saying, “South Carolina schools have more than enough intrusion from Washington thanks to Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. To paraphase Ronald Reagan, they have all the ‘help’ they need from the government.”

Zais is, however, seeking the federal government’s help in one regard: South Carolina is one of many states that has declared its intention to apply to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.