Analysis: Blurring the line between education and job training (updated)

Update as of 2/12/22: H.4766, which would add more seats and give more power to the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development, passed the S.C. House on Feb. 8. The bill now heads to the Senate. For more information on why we oppose the bill, see below for our analysis.

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Two concerning education bills have been moving at the Statehouse, with one bill advancing through the committee process and awaiting consideration on the House floor.  

H.3102 – Merging K-12 and higher education agencies 

This bill would merge two state education agencies – the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) – into a new, workforce-focused entity called the “Commission for Comprehensive Education”. Seven of its nine members would be elected by lawmakers; the remaining two would be appointed by the governor.  

As their names suggest, the EOC performs oversight for K-12 schools, while the CHE supervises the state higher education system. The new agency would assume both responsibilities, framing the education system as a one-way pipeline toward college and employment.  

Critically, the agency would be in charge of a new program called “P-20” (preschool through age 20), which calls for, among other things, integrating career counseling into “all levels of education”, aligning high school courses to meet college admissions standards, and encouraging “all students” to obtain college degrees.  

The bill received a subcommittee hearing last month. Instead of passing or voting it down, the panel adjourned debate until further notice, leaving the door open for future meetings.  

H.4766 – Expanding the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development 

This bill would add several seats to the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development (CCWD), including two members appointed by the chairpersons of the House and Senate education committees. It would also prevent the council’s official members from picking individuals to serve in their stead.  

The council, chaired by the state Secretary of Commerce, is primarily responsible for preparing the state’s workforce to meet the “needs of the state economy”. According to state law, the council is mainly focused on individuals over the age of 21, though that section would by struck under the bill.

In addition to creating a statewide workforce plan, the council would be charged with improving coordination between K-12, higher education, and South Carolina employers, and also enforcing provisions of state education laws related to economic development.  

The bill was voted favorably by the House Education Committee on Wednesday awaits consideration on the House floor.  

School or job training?  

These bills are part of a recent, larger push by state lawmakers to let alleged workforce needs, determined by government, drive education policy. Under this vision, schools are seen less as places for learning and creativity, and more like training centers for South Carolina employers.  

The Coordinating Council for Workforce Development was established by the General Assembly in 2016. Almost immediately, it began work on a new student tracking program to meet workforce demands, known as the “data warehouse,” which lawmakers first tried to sneak into the state budget as a proviso. The proviso was vetoed by the governor after SCPC discovered and criticized the program.

In 2020, the S.C. House passed the data warehouse as a standalone bill, though it was never taken up by the Senate and failed to become law. Another data warehouse bill was filed last year. As of this date, it has not received a committee hearing.  However, pieces of that legislation are present in the new bill (H.4677), like a requirement that the council use “longitudinal data” to identify workforce priorities.

While it is obvious something should be done about South Carolina’s education system, this is clearly the wrong direction. Lawmakers are giving too much influence over education policy to an entity that is more interested in the state’s economic needs than those of students (stated plainly by the council’s statutory mission).  

Beyond that, there are too many decision makers in the education space. We have the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Education Oversight Committee, SC First Steps, the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development, and the Department of Commerce, to name a few. So how should we proceed? 

At a minimum, the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development should be abolished. Education policy for children and teenagers should not be so heavily influenced by economic and workforce needs, both of which are key interests of the council. If colleges and universities want to better align their courses to serve the job market, they can do that on their own. 

There is certainly no reason to create a new education agency as proposed by H.3102, especially one that blurs the critical line between K-12 and higher education. If lawmakers want to consolidate, they should consider putting the Education Oversight Committee under the Department of Education. Both share overlapping responsibilities, like publishing annual school report cards, so a merger seems natural.  

This is not to suggest there is no place for career planning at a certain stage in the education process. Students should leave school, whether high school or college, with the necessary skills and knowledge to find employment. The problem is letting a small group of government officials and appointees decide what employment should look like, and reshaping schools based on that assumption.

We will continue to track these bills if and when they move through the legislative process. For a more complete look at active bills each week, check out our Statehouse Calendar.  

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