- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Hundreds of teachers returned to the Statehouse on Wednesday to remind lawmakers they have their own ideas about how to reform education, a debate that continues to drag on in the legislature.

The teacher-led organization SC for Ed, which organized a rally of more than 10,000 people in support of teachers last year, prompting several school districts to close, has said its only planned actions so far this year are to talk to lawmakers and attend meetings.

But the grassroots group’s social media hashtag #ScforEdDressRehearsal was a reminder of its March 17 deadline for lawmakers to set their goals. If they don’t meet the deadline, the group said, it will consider another walkout. More than 200 teachers signed in with the group Wednesday, and they wore red, the color the organization adopted as its symbol for action.

SC for Ed’s 2020 goals include reducing standardized tests, increasing pay, transforming programs that help younger elementary school students read and passing a bill of rights for teachers that includes allowing them to take breaks and speak freely about school conditions.

Wednesday was a day to seek common ground, meet senators, representatives and Gov. Henry McMaster. Teachers also attended hearings, including a Senate floor debate - in its seventh day Wednesday with no end in sight - on a massive education overhaul bill the group opposes. The teachers group has said it prefers to implement the changes in smaller bills.

“We’re here to prevent a more extreme action,” said Lisa Ellis, founder of SC for Ed, which started out less than two years ago as a Facebook group comprising a handful of teachers who were disappointed with state leadership on education.

In 2019, the House angered the group by passing the huge reform bill now stalled in the Senate, with little input from teachers. This year, the House is passing smaller chunks of the massive overhaul bill in case the bigger bill can’t pass.

A teacher bill of rights allowing breaks and setting other minimum benefits was sent to the House floor, where lawmakers on Wednesday passed another bill that would reduce the number of standardized tests given to students and require school districts to report results to parents and teachers within a week.

High school English teacher Steve Nuzum of Columbia was part of a group that met with Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree. The Republican from Horry County has caught a lot of anger from the teachers group for opposing a bill of rights and other measures.

But Nuzum said Wednesday’s meeting was encouraging.

“We told them we have grave concerns about a bill that didn’t include input from teachers or education experts when it was drafted. He listened,” Nuzum said.

A number of lawmakers from both parties met with teachers. Some lawmakers tried to avoid anyone dressed in red.

Nuzum said it’s frustrating that some legislators have disparaged the group, which continues to work to understand the legislative process. Some items on the March 17 deadline set by the group will likely be impossible to achieve because they are in the state budget, which under rules will go into April or May to pass.

“It does bother me as a constituent I’m always told to get involved in the process until I’m involved in the process,” Nuzum said. “I see a lot of legislators telling us we need to read the bill. I’ve read the bill.”


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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