Debate sidetracks virtual school plan

COLUMBIA - A plan to expand the state's online courses was cruising through the General Assembly until a legislator decided public school pupils should not be given priority.


Lawmakers have since been bogged down in debate over the issue. Discussion is expected to resume this week.

Most legislators want to expand a pilot program started last summer that allows more pupils - about 3,000 a semester - the chance to earn class credit through online courses.

But Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, said public school pupils shouldn't be given enrollment priority. Under his amendment, the 3,000 slots would instead be filled on a first come, first served basis.

Expanding the program would cost roughly $3.5 million for 28 full-time employees, course development and equipment. Parents, whether of private or public school pupils, would not have to pay for the courses.

Proponents hope the expansion will improve the state's lowest-in-the-nation graduation rate by offering students another way to earn class credit and offer students in small, rural schools a chance to take courses not offered in their hometown.

The state Education Department opposes Mr. Owens' amendment, spokesman Jim Foster said.


- Gov. Mark Sanford will ask lawmakers today to quickly pass bills toughening state laws on driving under the influence, repeating a request he made during his State of the State speech. Some proposals being considered this year would set minimum sentences for DUI arrests and require police to videotape a stop if DUI is suspected.

- Advocates of people living with HIV/AIDS in South Carolina will call on legislators today to put $8 million into the state budget to help patients fill their drug prescriptions and receive doctor's care. More than 400 South Carolinians are on a waiting list for the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Advocates call the budget request a deal compared with the billions the state would spend on hospital care and lost work.

- A Senate committee will discuss a variety of bills that would require governments and businesses to verify their employees' immigration status through a federal program; designate May as Confederate Memorial Month; and ratify a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

- Associated Press