Lawmakers move education reform to top of priorities for legislative session

Senators voted to make the Education Reform bill (S.419) a top priority Tuesday

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —With lawmakers returning to the Capital City, there are several key issues that are going to be debated over the next few months.

One of the biggest issues on the table is education reform, which Senators decided would be a top priority after voting to put the South Carolinaat the top of the Senate calendar.

After a motion from Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R-Edgefield County), Senators voted 40-4 to put the bill on special order, meaning discussion on the bill will start within the next week.

“While it’s on special order, we’ll have an opportunity to research and provide amendments to that bill and we’ll have an opportunity to argue as it relates to our specific areas and what we want to change in the bill before it passes,” said Sen. Margie Bright Matthews (D-Colleton County).

On Twitter, Sen. Mike Fanning (D-Fairfield County) said that two-thirds of the Senate “could not even have read the bill” since it was only released out of the Senate Education Committee in December.

Fanning was one of four Senators who voted against the special order. Joining him was Senators Mia McLeod (D-Richland County), Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg County), and Tom Corbin (R-Greenville County).

Some Senators say they want education to be their top priority, but they want to have a say in how the final bill takes shape.

“Bottom line for me is I want to make sure it empowers teachers. I want to make sure it compensates teachers, I want to make sure it allows teachers to teach, protects the planning sessions, things of that nature because the achievement of our students starts with teachers, starts with quality, starts with the ability to do their jobs,” said Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort County).

SC for Ed, the organization that organized a gathering of 10,000 teachers in May, released a statement shortly after the Senate vote, saying in part the bill “does nothing to truly reform education in South Carolina or address the growing issues of retention, especially of veteran educators.”

If passed, the bill will, among other things, increase teacher pay, get rid of some testing, and add five extra days to the start of the school year.

This corresponds with the budget proposal from Gov. Henry McMaster (R-South Carolina), which would give all public school teachers a $3,000 raise.

Some lawmakers anticipate lots of discussion over the budget, especially when it comes to handling a nearly $2 billion surplus.

“I don’t know if I would really look at it as a surplus because when you neglected so much over time, like public education, there’s definitely needs for that money,” said Rep. Seth Rose (D-Richland County).

Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Wooten (R-Lexington County) says the surplus will be a great benefit to law enforcement and first responders, while also giving some of that money back to taxpayers.

“I don’t think we should take one dime more than we have to from our taxpayers. We have more money than we thought we were going to have. We talk about tax reform and giving some of that money to the citizens, and I think that’s a great way to start,” Rep. Wooten said.

In addition to the budget and education reform, lawmakers say they are anticipating lots of discussion about the fetal heartbeat bill as well as the sale of Santee Cooper.

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