State Superintendent Zais Issues Campaign Announcement

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais today issued an announcement regarding his candidacy for the 2014 election.

Dr. Zais said, “When I ran for this office, I pledged to serve no more than two terms.  As it has been for some, my campaign was never a stepping stone to higher office.  Rather, it was the culmination of a lifetime of service.”

“As an infantry officer in the United States Army for 31 years, I served my soldiers, my unit, and my country,” said Dr. Zais.  “As President of Newberry College, I served my students, my campus, and my Christian faith.”

“And as South Carolina’s State Superintendent of Education, I serve our students, parents, and taxpayers.”

“For the last 45 years of my life, my family has made enormous sacrifices to support my careers, moving around the country and the world many times,” said Dr. Zais.  “They mean more to me than anything on this planet.”

“That is why, after much prayer and thoughtful consideration with my family, I have decided not to seek re-election as State Superintendent of Education,” said Dr. Zais.

Dr. Zais added, “This was a very difficult decision.  I was preparing for, and looking forward to, a re-election campaign.  I’m confident I would have run a strong campaign and would have been re-elected.”

“There remains much work left to be done,” said Dr. Zais.  “But the whole conversation about education in South Carolina has changed since I entered office.  Then, most were defending the current system, fighting to maintain the status quo.  Today, nearly everyone recognizes that the one-size-fits-all system just doesn’t work for far too many students.”

“People often ask me how are we doing in education,” said Dr. Zais.  “My response is supporters of the current system defend it at all costs.  Others seek to tear it down without looking at the data.  The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.”

Dr. Zais offered some facts for consideration:

  • The on-time graduation rate is at its highest level since 2004 – 77.5%.
  • The state’s average ACT score is at its highest level ever.  And the gap between South Carolina and the national average has never been narrower.
  • The Class of 2013 earned $1.15 billion college scholarships – a new record.

Dr. Zais said, “The credit for these accomplishments goes to students and parents, as well as their teachers and principals.  These aren’t just statistics.  Behind every number is a child with dreams and aspirations.  We must never forget this.”

Dr. Zais concluded, “I commit to the public that I will spend each day, until the end of my term, working to transform education.  I will continue to visit schools and continue to advocate to the General Assembly on behalf of students, parents, and taxpayers.  And I will continue to tell the truth about the state of education in South Carolina.”

Dr. Zais was elected State Superintendent of Education on November 2, 2010.  Dr. Zais won the Republican Party primary in a contest with five other Republican candidates.  He is the second Republican ever to win election to this office.  In the General Election he received 51% of all votes cast, defeating four other candidates and winning a majority of counties.  Dr. Zais led his closest competitor, Democrat Frank Holleman, by more than 108,000 votes.

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Transformation: What South Carolina Can Learn From Florida’s K-12 Reforms

This week a new South Carolina think tank, the Palmetto Policy Forum, released a fascinating new report proposing many of the same ideas and concepts I’ve promoted as State Superintendent of Education.

Transformation: What South Carolina Can Learn From Florida’s K-12 Reforms explores how bold reforms have transformed education in Florida. School choice, transparent accountability for school performance by using school letter grades, and ending social promotion have put the focus squarely on student achievement in the Sunshine State.

Please take a moment to read this report and share it with your friends. I look forward to working with Governor Nikki Haley and the General Assembly to pass legislation that puts the interests of students first in South Carolina.

The ACLU Threatens South Carolina Schools

ACLU Tells Public Schools It’s Monitoring School Prayer Complaints

By Sam Favate

August 21, 2012, 10:56 AM

As the new school year begins, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Carolina are hoping to educate the educators – as well as students and parents — about religious liberty through a new campaign encouraging schools to protect students’ rights to remain free from governmental promotion of religion.

“It’s important that all students know that they’re going back to school to a place where they will be welcome no matter what they believe,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, in a statement Monday. The group claims to have received numerous reports of religious freedom violations, including complaints that many South Carolina schools impose religion on students.

In a letter sent to all public schools in the state, the ACLU of South Carolina said the campaign is trying to ensure that schools do not impose or promote religion, and adds that, “based on complaints received by the ACLU, many school districts are failing to honor this vital constitutional mandate.”

Among the incidents the ACLU claims to have received in the last two years are the distribution of Bibles to students, prayer and scriptural readings at school events and school assemblies featuring evangelizing and religious content. The letter also states that if the group receives a complaint about a particular school district, they will make contact in an attempt to resolve the issue. “Litigation will be a last resort,” the letter states.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said in a statement to Law Blog,  “I support the rights of students and adults to pray or not to pray in schools. This misinformation campaign by the ACLU isn’t about religious freedom. It’s an attempt to discourage religious expression in the public arena by issuing threats of lawsuits and suggesting it is unlawful to pray in school. The Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. To those who choose to pray in school, I encourage them to keep praying.”

In January, the ACLU and ACLU of South Carolina filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of school-sponsored prayer and religious activities in a South Carolina school district. The case was settled by consent decree, and a permanent injunction was ordered, prohibiting prayers during or in conjunction with school events. The order also blocked school officials from organizing, financing or sponsoring religious services involving students.

The State: Federal waiver allows S.C. to improve education

Federal waiver allows S.C. to improve education

Federal approval of Education Superintendent Mick Zais’ request to be released from the absurd mandates of the meddlesome No Child Left Behind law is unequivocally good news.

The idea behind NCLB is perfectly legitimate: that students will learn more if we set high expectations and hold our schools and teachers accountable for the results. Like our own Education Accountability Act that predates it by three years, it requires schools to make progress educating not just the middle-class kids who are easy to teach but the disadvantaged ones as well. By grading schools on not just overall test scores but also scores for all demographic subgroups, it makes it impossible for schools with lots of better-off students to mask their failure to teach poor kids.

We’re not convinced that the federal government needs to be involved in public education, but if it is, it needs to provide realistic requirements, and hold all states to the same standard. No Child Left Behind does neither. The law’s long-term requirements are dangerously unrealistic, requiring every student in the country to be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014 — which is possible only if the word “proficient” is stripped of any meaning. And the law gave states so much flexibility in the short-term that they were tempted to game the system by doing precisely that — and many did.

The waiver allows South Carolina to stop squandering its resources on unattainable goals — and stop giving fuel to those opponents who want to incinerate our system of public education — and get back to the work of improving education.

And in fact, Dr. Zais’ critique of Washington’s role in education policy — “If Washington wants to hold states accountable for the results, it should allow states maximum flexibility to affect the outcomes” — could well serve as a template for his efforts to revamp our state’s approach to education. With a twist.

Our state needs to give district and school administrators the authority to design the curriculums that work best — without mandating, say, which reading program they purchase or how many minutes they spend in the classroom each day — and the authority to hire, and fire, personnel as they see fit. And when some of those schools don’t deliver, our state needs to be aggressive about intervening.

The central ideas in Dr. Zais’ plan are sound: eliminating the all-or-nothing approach of NCLB and using student achievement instead of merely longevity and degrees earned to determine teacher pay.

But he and the Legislature need to remember that there’s a world of difference between coming up with a good idea and a writing a law that implements that idea well.

It makes good sense to grade schools on a five-point scale rather than the black-and-white options of perfection and failure. But while it’s ridiculous to label a school a failure because one tiny subgroup of students doesn’t meet expectations, it’s important to preserve the goal behind this taken-to-the-extreme implementation. That means preserving the S.C. rules that stop schools from coasting on the achievements of their best students while ignoring the others.

And while we don’t believe teachers should pick their own evaluation system — just as no group of employees should be able to do that — it is important that we develop a system that most teachers, and especially good teachers, and would-be teachers, consider fair. Despite what you might think if you listen to the most vocal opponents of pay-for-performance, that’s an achievable goal, as long as state officials are willing to work in good faith to achieve it.

This editorial was published in The State newspaper on Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

Contact Your Legislators

Next week, the South Carolina General Assembly will return to consider Governor Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes.  This special session will likely be the last time the General Assembly convenes before the November elections and a new General Assembly is seated.

Throughout the appropriations process I’ve submitted letters to the two budget writing committees regarding various budget matters.  I’ve posted all my letters to the South Carolina Department of Education’s website.  I pledged to bring transparency to the SCDE during my first campaign and I’ve delivered.

I’ve been successful in my advocacy efforts for student-centered solutions during my first 18 months in office.  The bulk of the success though has been because of the outpouring of support from many students, parents, and taxpayers.  They’ve emailed and called their legislators, asking them to simply “Support Mick Zais.”

The General Assembly has moved the ball forward on many education fronts this year and Governor Haley has been a strong ally.  My top priority, a strong public charter school bill, became law in May.  South Carolina is poised to become one of the leading states in the charter school movement.

I’m asking legislators to finish out the legislative session by supporting my recommendations on budget vetoes for common-sense, limited government.

I’m asking for your help one more time.  Please call or email your state representatives and state senators. Politely, but firmly, ask them to “Support Mick Zais” on budget vetoes.  Take a moment to read my letter to legislators making recommendations about budget vetoes. Please call or email your legislators by Monday night, July 16.

As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve you as your State Superintendent of Education.  Working together, South Carolina can transform education so every child receives a personalized and customized education.

Post & Courier Editorial: Supt. Zais sticks to themes: charter schools can work, and poor children can learn

Supt. Zais sticks to themes: charter schools can work, and poor children can learn

June 23, 2012

When he was campaigning for state superintendent of education, Mick Zais had some favorite themes that clearly resonated with voters. Charter schools can work. Poor children can learn. And schools need more autonomy.

After a year and a half in office, his favorite themes haven’t changed — and he’s made headway in pursuit of them, mostly in the form of charter school legislation, which passed the General Assembly and was signed by the governor.

The bill is clearly aimed at making charter schools more attractive to students and their families and supporting the idea that one size does not fit all in education.

For example, it allows single-gender schools, where previously individual classes could be for boys only or girls only. It would also allow colleges to sponsor charter schools to their mutual advantage. Charter schools provide practical experience for college education students and in return get extra people to teach, guide and encourage students. Dr. Zais says it will probably be 2013 before such schools appear in South Carolina.

Further, the bill benefits students who attend a charter school without extracurricular options like football or debate club. Those students will be allowed to participate in such activities at the school they would have attended had they not chosen a charter school. These activities are an important part of an education, and it makes sense for them to be made available to all public school students.

The superintendent had hoped to help poor children attend private schools that meet their needs better than their assigned schools. The school choice bill would have provided scholarships for disabled and disadvantaged students.

More controversially, it also would have provided tax breaks for any family sending a child to private school or opting for home schooling.

The bill failed, as did the Teacher Protection Act. If a teacher had to break up a fight, that legislation would have protected him from an abuse lawsuit.

Mr. Zais is wading through red tape in his effort to provide schools and local school districts more autonomy. He has invited superintendents to send him their suggestions. He says he will work through the bureaucratic quagmire to accommodate them.

Superintendent Zais has remained true to the promises he made when voters elected him. It is yet too soon to know how his efforts will play out.

We look forward to seeing successful charter schools, and successful students, even when their choices have been limited by poverty.

Senator Jim DeMint Talks About School Choice

Please take a moment to watch this interview about school choice conducted by FreedomWorks with U.S. Senator Jim DeMint.

Updated Times for Empower SC Education Reform Summit

Last week I told you about the Empower SC Education Reform Summit, hosted by Sen. Jim DeMint, Gov. Nikki Haley, Speaker Bobby Harrell and me.  Gov. Jeb Bush will be the keynote speaker.  This summit will be held on Friday, April 27 in Columbia at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

The schedule for the event has been shifted a little bit earlier in the day to allow attendees to return home that evening.  Registration for the event will begin at 10:30am and the luncheon will begin at 11:00am.  The summit should conclude by 5:00pm.

There is no cost to register for the summit.  Please RSVP to empowersummit@gmail.com.

SCGOP Congressional District Conventions

April is the month designated by the South Carolina Republican Party for congressional district conventions.  These conventions, held every four years, elect delegates and alternates to the Republican National Convention.

I will attend three conventions in the 4th, 5th, and 7th congressional districts.  I regret I cannot attend them all, but I know all of them will be well-attended.

A big thank you to all the SCGOP, conservative, Tea Party, and liberty activists for all they do to advance conservative causes in South Carolina.  I look forward to seeing you over the new few weeks.

Thursday, April 12 – 5th Congressional District Convention

Saturday, April 14 – 4th Congressional District Convention

Saturday, April 21 – 7th Congressional District Convention

Empower SC Education Reform Summit

Summit to feature former Florida Governor Jeb Bush as special guest speaker

COLUMBIA, SC – April 4, 2012 – U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) announced that he will partner with Governor Nikki Haley, Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell and SC Superintendent of Education Mick Zais to host the Empower South Carolina Education Reform Summit on Friday, April 27, 2012 in Columbia, SC.

The event will begin with a lunch featuring former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Founder of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, as the keynote speaker and will continue throughout the afternoon with various informational sessions and networking opportunities.

“I’m pleased to be part of this exciting event that will bring education, business and policy leaders together to discuss ideas that can result in meaningful education reform and new opportunities for every South Carolina student,” said DeMint.

“All over the country, states have stopped looking to Washington and instead looked closer to home for practical solutions to secure the future prosperity of their citizens.  This is especially true in education, where states like Florida have become exciting examples of innovation yielding real results for students.”

Attendees will join education policymakers and opinion leaders from around South Carolina and the nation to learn about important developments and best practices in education reform, grow South Carolina’s network of education innovators and strategize on the path forward for empowering students.

“The success of today’s students will determine our nation’s destiny,” said Jeb Bush, Former Governor of Florida and Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.  “Governors and Legislators must seize the opportunity to transform education for the 21st century. Florida made incredible progress in the last ten years. If Florida can do it, South Carolina can do it.”

“What we want for our children is a good quality education that allows choices for parents and the ability for teachers to teach without having their hands tied by Washington,” said Governor Haley.

“A personalized, customized education for every student is the future of education. A student-centered approach will transform education from a system that treats students as identical units, teachers as assembly line workers, and administrators as managers who work to meet production quotas of dubious quality. It’s not the people in the system who are stifling progress. It’s the system itself that must be replaced,” Superintendent Zais said.

“The educational reforms we’ve pursued in South Carolina have focused on greater choice for students, increased accountability for parents and the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell.  ”I am proud to be part of the EMPOWER Summit with Senator DeMint and Governor Bush, which will be an important discussion about how we can build on the momentum and educational reforms we’ve begun in South Carolina.”

“I’m thankful that Gov. Bush is taking the time to visit South Carolina to share his unique expertise in the field of education reform. Change is never easy, but an honest dialogue can not only inform, but also inspire us to consider new ways to empower the next generation with the skills that will lead to success in school and success in life,” stated DeMint.

The Empower Summit will be held at the Columbia Convention Center from 11:30 AM to 5:30 PM.  Seating is limited and registration is required.  For more information, individuals may contact Senator DeMint’s Columbia office at 803.771.6112 or email empowersummit@gmail.com.