Education debate: GCS board supports disbanding education agency

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The Greenville County Schools board of trustees will send a letter of support to the South Carolina Legislature for a bill that would disband the Education Oversight Committee.

The board’s members have long been critical of the EOC — in 2017, they approved a resolution calling on the Legislature to dissolve the agency.

The EOC is a state government agency created in 1998 to monitor, implement, and suggest changes regarding the Education Accountability Act and the Education Improvement Act. The committee consists of five members with business experience, five members with education experience, and seven legislators or their designees. The state superintendent is also an ex-officio member who isn’t allowed to vote.

The 2017 resolution from Greenville County Schools cited several concerns board members have with the agency — primarily that the committee’s role has expanded from an oversight body to a governing one.

“The EOC is often in conflict with the vision and recommendations of the duly elected South Carolina Superintendent of Education, who has no vote on the EOC, but is accountable to the people of South Carolina and charged with providing the leadership and services to ensure a system of public education through which all students become educated, responsible, and contributing citizens,” the resolution said.

The board’s letter of support is aimed at two bills introduced in the state House of Representatives and the Senate that would dissolve the EOC and distribute its responsibilities to the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education.

“This has become significantly more important now because of yesterday,” GCS board member Derek Lewis said at a meeting in February. “Where the elected, state superintendent of education recommended changes to the report card and the EOC dismissed all of her recommended changes and said, ‘You’re going to have to wait three years before we’re going to do any changes.’”

Lewis was referencing an EOC meeting where Superintendent Molly Spearman recommended several changes to the rating system on the state report cards. House Speaker Jay Lucas and the EOC disagreed with her recommendations, saying they would reduce accountability and work counter to the education reform bill Lucas filed in January.

In a story from The State newspaper on the meeting, Spearman said she was “baffled and disappointed” that Lucas publicly aired his problems with the recommendations rather than speak to her directly.

Members of the Greenville County Schools board unanimously approved sending a letter of support for the bills that would dissolve the EOC.

“We again have this huge conflict between the person that was elected by the people of South Carolina to make decisions and a group of unelected people who have more authority on education policy than that individual does,” Lewis said. “So, for us, it’s not a personal thing; it’s about clarifying that the elected individuals should be the ones who really make the decisions in our state.”

The letter, written by board Chairman Chuck Saylors, also references the addition of a “Zero to Twenty Committee” in the General Assembly’s massive education reform bills.

“Adding to the confusion is the potential of an additional body, as part of Speaker Lucas’ work with H.3759; and its companion Senate bill S419; which would give South Carolina three oversight bodies,” Saylors wrote. “In a place and time when those who serve expand on reducing waste and excessive expenses you have an opportunity to make our system more efficient for our students, teachers and taxpayers.”