The year 2020 will not only be the year known for the coronavirus, it will also be known for the changes to the public education system in South Carolina, the nation, and beyond. This year’s back-to-school shopping consists of masks and hand sanitizer in addition to the typical staples, but it also brings uncertainty for parent work schedules and jobs in general.
In an era of tough and sometimes no-win decisions, education across the state is no different. In South Carolina, AccelerateED published their final recommendations earlier this summer. Since these recommendations rolled out, school districts across the state have been working on their localized plans, and many of the state’s schools will begin the 2020-2021 academic year next week. State Superintendent Molly Spearman set forth four criteria that each plan would need for state approval:
- A virtual option for all students
- An in-person option for all students with masks required throughout the day.
- A time frame for when districts intend to review operational plans so that implantation of a full face-to-face instruction model can be worked towards as health and safety conditions improve.
- Establish how high quality instruction will be provided, regardless of instructional model, and demonstrate how a broad range of student services will be provided – including ensuring all federal and state law requirements are met.
School districts across the state have submitted plans, with the current approved plans running the spectrum of full day face-to-face to fully virtual. With the varied approaches for parents and guardians, this leads to additional choices related to returning to work, child care needs, and more. Further, it amplifies the effect the public school system has on the economy as a whole. The state’s budget and its approval will likely provide some of the more contentious moments of the upcoming fall session.
South Carolina enjoyed a surplus before the pandemic’s headwinds arrived. It has had a significant impact on the state and those surplus funds have dwindled substantially. With that reduction will come real impacts in many areas facing difficult scenarios moving forward. Some of the areas the legislature is likely to focus on include:
Health, Testing and Tracing
State leaders have recommended increasing funding for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. This would include increasing publicity of such testing events, PPE stockpiling, testing for public higher education institutions, and furthering investment in Clemson and MUSC research of testing options. Preparations and planning for the next potential epidemic or pandemic are likely to be considered as well.
Broadband Internet in Rural Areas of the State
When schools closed and the state was placed into an e-learning scenario, disparities in technology and internet access across the state were quickly identifiable. From the beginning of the governor’s reopening committee formations, broadband internet access in rural areas of South Carolina was quickly an item of importance. Beginning with CARES Act funding, $50 million was allocated to support this initiative. More funding and other incentives for internet providers are likely to be discussed and implemented.
The pandemic amplified some struggles within the state’s systems to know where public school children are located and what their individual situations may be. Substantial work has been done since the governor’s announcement that schools had not been in contact with more than 10,000 kids since March. That number is now reduced to under 2,000. This has exacerbated the importance of nutrition, transportation, and other support programs offered most typically through the public school environment.
It is well known that the state’s leading economic engine is tourism. There have been significant reductions in the level of tourism to the state. With museums, zoos, movie theaters, and at times the beaches themselves closed, the impact is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Hotel associations, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, as well as other tourism groups are pleading to the General Assembly for support given their closures due to governmental orders.
Taxes, Business Relief, and Incentives
The tax base for the state has been impacted both on the personal income and property side as well as in business taxes. Special purpose tax districts are likely to have had the biggest hit given the closure of parks, public spaces, and more. This decrease in revenue for the state will certainly produce future budgetary concerns.
Unemployment claims in the most recent week had come in with under 6,000 new filers. This is significantly lower than the earlier months of the pandemic but still three times higher than the weekly totals leading into March. Given the federal changes and continued debate on supplementing state unemployment benefits, delays are to be expected in payments to those filing for unemployment.
For more information, please contact me or your regular Parker Poe Consulting contact.