COLUMBIA - A Charleston senator says he is one step closer to ridding South Carolina of the Common Core standards after a Senate panel advanced his bill on Wednesday.
Sen. Larry Grooms' bill, S. 300, which calls for the repeal of Common Core standards, was approved by the Senate Education Committee with amendments introduced by Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville. If the amendments are adopted by the full Senate, however, the state would keep Common Core standards in place through 2018.
Grooms did not treat the amendments attached to the bill as a defeat. He admitted the contentious bill is far from law, but said that at least he now gets to make his case on the Senate floor.
"We're still moving forward," the Republican senator said. "There's still some high hurdles to clear in order to clear our state from Common Core."
Grooms' immediate hurdle would be having the bill heard on the floor; though the bill was passed along by the committee, it was done so with a minority report. That means Grooms will have to get two thirds of the Senate to vote on ordering the bill to be heard with a special order.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, called on the minority report, later saying the passing of the bill was an illusion that the panel has done something.
"The room was full of people that came to support (S.300)," Hutto said. "You saw that basically that the majority gave into the symbolism of 'Let's put out a bill on the floor that has no chance just so we can say we won some pyrrhic victory.'"
A similar bill, S.888, was also approved. It says South Carolina cannot adopt standards without the advice and consent of the Education Oversight Committee, and without the approval by joint resolution of the General Assembly. Fair's amendments were also tacked onto that bill, in the case the Senate finds the amendments are not relevant to Grooms' initial bill.
Common Core standards define what students in all grades must learn in reading and math. Because what students are learning will be changing, the state needs new standardized exams to evaluate whether they mastered that information.
The state Board of Education has agreed to use a new test that was developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which was made up of educators, researchers and policymakers.
Fair's amendments would pull South Carolina from the Smarter Balanced testing consortia, which would mean Smarter Balanced tests would not be administered during the 2014-15 school year. Instead, the amendments call for South Carolina to adopt an assessment aligned with Common Core and developed by the ACT, which would have to be approved by the federal government. At least one state, Alabama, plans to use that exam this spring.
Yet, if Grooms' bill passes without amendments, it would revert South Carolina to the standards of 2010 - before the state approved Common Core. But the state's tests, such as PASS and the exit exam, aren't aligned to the new Common Core standards.
South Carolina Department of Education staffers warned during a February subcommittee meeting that keeping current state standardized tests would place the state out of compliance with federal requirements. Not meeting the federal requirements could jeopardize $214 million in federal Title I money allocated for schools with a high percentage of low-income children.
But Grooms was not fazed by the warnings. He said he did not think the state would lose out on the cash.
"We'd still have time to correct," Grooms said. "I believe, with amendments to our current standards, we can meet federal requirements."
Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.
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