South Carolina

How will SC schools look years from now? House panel starts education reform debate

‘Education is the key’: SC teachers and state workers rally at State House

SC teachers and state workers gathered at the State House in Columbia, SC for the South Carolinians Deserve the Best rally, advocating for higher pay and more support from state lawmakers.
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SC teachers and state workers gathered at the State House in Columbia, SC for the South Carolinians Deserve the Best rally, advocating for higher pay and more support from state lawmakers.

S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas told legislators Wednesday that his proposal to shake up the state’s K-12 school system, changing the way money is spent on classrooms and students, is “not a perfect piece of legislation.”

“We knew it wasn’t perfect when we filed it” last Thursday, Lucas, R-Darlington, told an S.C. House education subcommittee, which started debate of House Bill 3759 Wednesday.

“This is a bill that requires your input. It needs your input. It demands your input and the input from everyone in our House of Representatives. More importantly, it needs the input of teachers, of students, of pupils and of people who work within the system.”

Lucas’ 84-page policy proposal had 24 co-sponsors as of Wednesday, including S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and state Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The House panel studying the proposal will hear from teachers on Feb. 5 and Feb. 12, said state Rep. Raye Felder, R-York, the subcommittee’s chair.

“The mistake that has been made is that we’re not sometimes listening to teachers,” said state Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, who chairs the House’s full K-12 committee. “But we have been.”

Lucas’ bill includes a proposal to raise the starting salary for teachers to $35,000 a year from $32,000.

It does not, however, recommend what specific raise that all S.C. teachers should get as part of the state’s budget that takes effect July 1. The House Ways and Means Committee will help make that decision as it begins writing a budget.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda, have proposed 5 percent raises for the state’s more than 52,000 teachers. That would cost the state about $155 million a year.

“Salary is the huge elephant in the room,” Larry Daniel, dean of the Zucker School of Education at The Citadel, told lawmakers Wednesday. “We’ve got to pay teachers better.”

The House bill also would:

Consolidate eight school districts or services in those districts, which have less than 1,000 students, by end of the 2021-22 fiscal year

Create a 10-member committee, chaired by Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, R-Travelers Rest, to focus on education — from pre-K through college — and report goals and concerns to the General Assembly

Ask the S.C. Department of Education to study whether the way teachers get pay raises should be changed

Lawmakers heard Wednesday from two teachers’ groups — the Palmetto State Teachers Association and S.C. Education Association — both of which are continuing to sift through Lucas’ proposal.

Palmetto’s Craig King, a former Orangeburg elementary school teacher, told legislators that his group of nearly 14,000 teachers is willing to work with the General Assembly.

However, he said, the group is concerned about proposals to create another education committee and an education “czar.”

“In November 2018, 60 percent of the citizens voted ... against having the governor appoint the superintendent of education,” King said. “This is an example of growing government, and South Carolinians want less government, not more.”

Legislators also heard from social studies teacher Charles Vaughan, with the S.C. Council for the Social Studies, who said eliminating the state’s standardized test for social studies could have unintended consequences. But, he added, “If I had a magic wand, I’d get rid of all (tests).”

As legislators move through their effort to overhaul schools, legislators were reminded Wednesday the process likely will be emotional.

“We are a very poor community,” said Ware Shoals mayor Bruce Holland, who said the death of the textile industry hurt his town and, in turn, Greenwood’s District 51 school district. Today, that district has about 965 students, meaning it could be a consolidation target.

“If it (the district) were to close, it would hurt our kids. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.