Kamala Harris April 2019

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, right, grabs a photo with Richland One school board member Yolanda Anderson following a roundtable discussion at Brookland Baptist Church on April 30, 2019.

In a seemingly ever-growing field of Democratic presidential candidates, it will be important for contenders to tackle issues important to residents in South Carolina, an early primary voting state.

On April 30, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris stopped in Columbia for a talk on issues that are red hot in the Palmetto State at the moment: education and teacher pay.

The senator from California appeared at Brookland Baptist Church for a roundtable discussion with a number of educators who work in the public school system in South Carolina. The appearance came on the eve of the May 1 rally at the State House, where thousands of South Carolina teachers — spurred by activist group SC for Ed — are expected to push for meaningful reforms to the Palmetto State's school system. 

Education has been a key talking point for Harris in her push for the Democratic nomination. She's advocated for a federal pay increase for school teachers, one that would effectively give South Carolina teachers a 19 percent pay hike. The measure could cost $315 billion nationwide over a decade.

"I've met so many teachers who are working two and three jobs to pay the bills," Harris says. "In our country, 94 percent of teachers who teach in public schools are coming out of their own pocket to pay for school supplies. ... Across the board, we are not doing well investing in the future of our country. And that really, ultimately is what this topic is about, the future of our country.

"So, I have proposed what will be a first in the nation federal investment in teacher pay, to close that teacher pay gap."

Harris also took note of the historical context of teachers, noting that it has long been a discipline associated with women. She thinks that is a connection to why public educators have, for years, been modestly paid. 

"Teaching was always thought of as a women's profession," Harris says. "There's no coincidence between the low pay and that fact. Let's speak truth. Let's speak truth, right? You can look ... at various professions that have traditionally been so-called women's professions where women have not been paid their value."

Columbia City Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Tameika Isaac Devine was among a number of people who were in attendance for Harris' talk at Brookland Baptist. She says she appreciates the senator's focus on education.

"I thought it was very powerful," Devine tells Free Times. "I'm glad that she's focusing on teacher pay, and I particularly like how she expressed that you can't talk about better outcomes for children if you don't talk about better outcomes for families. I had an opportunity earlier [on April 30] to talk to her one-on-one about wealth gaps and about making sure we are supporting families and supporting parents."

The Democratic Devine, whose husband, Jamie, is on the Richland One school board, says she hasn't yet made her final decision as to who she will support in the 2020 primary.

"There are a lot of very attractive candidates," Devine says. "Especially on the Democratic side, you  are not going to find a lot of difference until you get down to the details. So, it's still early. I'm still meeting with candidates, still talking to candidates. I've had the opportunity to meet [Harris] personally. I've met with Senator [Cory] Booker personally. I look forward to talking to some of the other candidates personally. Hopefully by the end of the summer I'll decide who I'm supporting."

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