For the past year, South Carolina lawmakers have debated critical reforms to improve our state’s education system. However, they have yet to pass any legislation, and with only three months remaining in the 2020 legislative session, time is running out.
Unfortunately, standing in the way is a small faction that is blocking efforts to improve South Carolina’s education system simply because the legislation under debate does not include 100 percent of what they want. For five weeks, the South Carolina Senate has ground to a halt as this vocal group uses every tactic to delay action. This is unacceptable.
To be clear, the education reform debate has become less about meaningful deliberation and more about piling on more and more amendments as a stall tactic, seriously threatening the passage of education reform legislation. Undertaking an effort to overhaul our education system is not an easy process, and we recognize there are no silver bullet solutions. In fact, even among teachers and groups that represent teachers, there are differing opinions on needed changes. But we firmly believe this legislation is a major step forward.
We applaud the great strides that have been made to support our teachers, including the commitment to provide another pay raise in this year’s state budget, new scholarships, additional teacher stipends for classroom supplies, and a 30-minute daily break for elementary school teachers, to name a few. Senate and House members have listened to teachers across the state and have taken action in this legislation to address the vast majority of their concerns.
As representatives of South Carolina’s business community, we are proud that our state’s economy is strong and the Palmetto State is regularly rated as one of the best places in the country to live, work and raise a family. However, our state’s education system consistently ranks at the bottom.
To remain economically competitive, our state’s leaders must ensure that our students, the next generation of South Carolina workers, have access to the knowledge and skills they will one day need in order to get a job or pursue higher education. But the reality of our state’s education system is not in line with how best to achieve this for all students, and many are falling short in key performance standards essential for college and career readiness.
Data released by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee for the 2018-19 school year show that only 37 percent of 5-year-olds were “ready to learn” upon entering kindergarten, 49 percent of third-graders met or exceeded expectations in reading, and 37 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded expectations in math.
South Carolina can do better. We must do better. And the time to act is now.
To put our students on the best path possible for achieving success, we must prioritize improving reading and math performance, holding our chronically underperforming school districts accountable, increasing the number of students earning meaningful professional credentials, and supporting our front-line education leaders — our teachers.
We know there is a bipartisan majority of senators who support comprehensive education reform and want to move our state forward. It is time for them to say, “Enough is enough,” and bring this debate to an end and vote on the bill. If there is to be a winner on education reform, we hope it will be the children of South Carolina and not an extreme, vocal group of individuals trying to stop progress. Senators, the choice is yours.
Sara Hazzard is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance. Ted Pitts is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.