COLUMBIA -A controversial teacher evaluation bill failed to leave the S.C. House subcommittee level on Tuesday, despite, or possibly because of, the support it received from a national polarizing education figure.
The House Education and Public Works K-12 Subcommittee met Tuesday morning to discuss H.4419, a bill filed by Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Beaufort, when he was considering a run for State Superintendent of Education. Patrick has since decided he will not run for the seat or to retain his seat in the House, but he still is pushing for the bill that aims to improve teacher training, compensation and evaluation.
Students First leader Michelle Rhee spoke at the committee meeting in favor of the bill. She said the organization believes the bill would put South Carolina on the trajectory to ensure kids in the state receive an education from quality teachers. Rhee warned, however, there is no one right answer to improving the state's education system.
"There is no silver bullet solution to the challenges that we face today," Rhee said. "If you pass this bill then it will be a step in the right direction, but that's all that it will be."
Rhee took up a large amount of time discussing the pros of the bill, and how similar measures implemented in Washington, D.C., and in Tennessee have proven to be effective. But Rhee's argument did not convince several subcommittee members, including Rep. Jerry Govan, a Democrat from Orangeburg, who said he was not fond of measures that throw teachers "under the bus."
"I think the answer and the solution is more than just statistics," Govan said. "I think that clearly you have to address the issues of poverty."
Rhee and Patrick also didn't convince Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. She said the state should wait for the results of pilot programs already in place that address teacher evaluations before implementing new measures.
"That's why I think this legislation is premature," Maness said. "We do not need this legislation at this time."
The bill never came up for a vote during the two parts of the subcommittee's meeting. The group had to break for the legislative session when the meeting ran long. Patrick later said he will not put the bill up for a vote until he's sure he's got enough members on his side.
Patrick has said the bill was introduced in response to several forums he held across the state with teachers. His proposal would overhaul how teachers are evaluated by placing emphasis on student growth. Teachers who are found to be ineffective would be identified through the process and offered ways to improve. Those who do not show improvement after two evaluation cycles could face termination.
During its second portion, the meeting turned into a finger-pointing session between opponents of the bill and Patrick, who was visibly bothered by the debate. Unlike his fellow colleagues, Patrick has a finite amount time to get the bill to pass before he leaves the House.
"It's an election year and teachers are an important part of the process," Patrick said. "Members have a responsibility when they join this body. It's not to get re-elected next time, it's to go out and represent their constituents."