My mother is a school teacher. She's retired now, but as any educator (or child of an educator) knows, you never stop being a teacher. Because for teachers, there's a core belief in the power of education that is who they are - and when you believe, you'll stop at nothing to help a child succeed.
That's a lesson I learned growing up with my mom, and that is one of the many reasons why I have fought to improve public education in South Carolina throughout my career.
That belief in the power of education is also why I am so excited to share that this week the Senate adopted my plan to further extend full-day, four-year-old kindergarten to even more counties in South Carolina.
Last year, I was proud to lead a bipartisan effort to extend four-year-old kindergarten to 17 additional counties in our state. We did this even though Gov. Nikki Haley opposed our efforts. And we did it by using our tax dollars wisely, without raising taxes - simply by setting the right priorities. More than 8,400 additional children were able to attend school this year as a result of our effort.
In the end, honest leadership really just comes down to the lessons that our teachers taught us early on: real accountability, basic arithmetic, and working together to get things done.
Real accountability means doing what works instead of focusing on political gimmicks.
South Carolina's political leaders have tried the "gimmick" approach to public education for too long. Gimmicks like standardized testing, vouchers, and even an overemphasis on technology are not what will transform our state's schools and most importantly students. It's the basics like smaller class sizes, better teacher pay, and most importantly, early childhood education that can change our state for the better.
For more than a decade, South Carolina's political leaders have been too obsessed with standardized tests. We have all heard the catch phrases - "No Child Left Behind", "PACT Tests", "PASS Tests" - just to name a few. And for the last 10 years, too many leaders in our state have spent their time pushing for the ultimate gimmick, vouchers. Gimmicks may be good for appealing to the political ideologues, but they don't teach our kids.
Quality teachers, early-childhood education - those are the things that we know work. And we've seen the rest of the country have success from implementing them and making learning, not just testing, the priority.
Honest leadership also comes down to basic arithmetic, to set priorities and make better use of South Carolinians' hard-earned tax dollars.
Research across the world has shown that early childhood education packs the most bang for our buck in education. A quality public four year old kindergarten program has been shown to better prepare children for school, strongly improve language and cognitive skills, and assist impoverished children catch up to their peers. A universal four-year-old kindergarten program would also increase future pupil retention and improve young children's readiness for school so they're ready to learn.
Plus, right now, our neighbors to the north and south both have universal four-year-old kindergarten programs. So our children and our state economy are at a huge disadvantage as we continue to fall further and further behind.
Finally: We have to work together to get things done in South Carolina, especially on education.
There is no Republican or Democratic way to educate a child. It is simply a question of whether we want to educate them or not.
Neither Gov. Haley nor the House of Representatives included expanding four-year-old kindergarten in their proposed budgets. But together we can push them to support our efforts for early childhood education.
I'll continue to build our bipartisan coalition in the legislature to expand four-year old kindergarten once again this year. I hope you will join us!
Vincent Sheheen, a Democrat, represents Chesterfield, Kershaw and Lancaster counties in the S.C. Senate. He is a candidate for governor.