The Education Improvement Act (EIA) was the culmination of a decade of legislative action to improve South Carolina’s public schools. Spurred by the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, Governor Richard W. Riley energized a coalition of business and political leaders and educators to advocate new programs and to dedicate the first increase in sales tax since the 1950s to support the changes. In the 1970s South Carolina had revised the school finance system and educator preparation and implemented a basic skills testing program. The EIA employed a different approach to school reform. Rather than acting on individual aspects of schooling, the legislation recognized the integrated and comprehensive nature of public education. New programs addressed seven fundamental areas: raising the level of student performance; teaching and testing the basic skills; elevating the teaching profession; improving leadership; implementing quality controls and rewarding productivity; creating partnerships among schools, businesses, and communities; and providing school buildings.
Riley played a critical role in the passage of the act, using the governor’s office to focus the state on student achievement. In addition, the development of a grassroots coalition and the recognition that student achievement is dependent on quality teaching were crucial to enacting the legislation.
Although not all EIA programs have survived, the dedicated sales tax has been maintained in a separate revenue fund and continues to be used for increasing the level of South Carolina’s student achievement. The EIA has remained a primary vehicle for comprehensive educational reform by stimulating other reform-oriented legislation such as the Target 2000 Act of 1989, the Early Childhood Development and Academic Assistance Act of 1993, and the Education Accountability Act of 1998.
United States. National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform; A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education. Washington, D.C.: The Commission, 1983.