- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Educators, students and school officials made impassioned appeals Tuesday to South Carolina lawmakers about an education bill deemed the starting point to reforming the state’s education system.

Several members of the General Assembly as well as hundreds of others gathered for a House subcommittee hearing purposefully scheduled late in the afternoon to encourage public participation to give input on the 84-page legislation. Frequent cheers were heard in the main meeting room from down the hall where two additional spaces were opened for overflow crowds.

While many speakers expressed their appreciation to lawmakers for taking on the task, a consistent concern throughout the meeting surrounded teachers’ dissatisfaction with lawmakers for not being a part of the initial drafting of the bill.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of the frustrations you’ll hear this afternoon could have been avoided if teacher voices had been better included at the start of this process,” Patrick Kelly, a 15-year teaching veteran, said to members of the subcommittee. “While I know authors of this bill have heard teachers’ concerns across the state, it was written largely without direct input from teachers or the state teacher association.”

Kelly, who is also a Palmetto State Teachers Association board member, said the bill misses the mark for not addressing what he believes is the core starting point for addressing education reform - dealing with teacher shortages by focusing on insufficient pay, lack of support for educators and lack of respect for the profession.

April Few, communications director for U.S. Parents Involved in Education, took exception to the proposed creation of a 10-member committee appointed by lawmakers charged with making sure education agencies are properly preparing students for the workforce. Few said such a move would create more bureaucracy.

“The biggest eyesore of the bill is the fact that it creates a whole new politically appointed committee unaccounted, unaccountable to individual voters and audaciously names the director as education tsar,” Few said. “As if the education oversight committee weren’t bad enough, bill sponsors want to create another layer of politically manipulated individuals who owe political favors.”

Rep. Richard Yow of Chesterfield said the committee would only make recommendations and the head of the committee, or “tsar,” would not make decisions.

During a Legislative Black Caucus meeting held earlier Tuesday, lawmakers too shared their concerns over components of the education bill with Gov. Henry McMaster. McMaster said the key to cultivating economic growth and prosperity in the state is through education.

“To have a reputation of being weak in education is not good,” McMaster said. “But having a reputation of not fixing it is a disaster.”

However, caucus members said they are still not sold on the education plan and also called into question some of its components after hearing from concerned constituents.

McMaster’s education proposal includes spending more than $150 million to give teachers a 5 percent pay raise, but Sen. John Scott of Columbia said educators who teach in the rural communities need more than a paycheck. He said they require an incentive package to include debt forgiveness, utility assistance and home buying assistance so that those teachers will become permanent fixtures in their communities.

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