My mother taught on an Army base in Texas while my father was in helicopter school there. For as far back as I can remember, she read to us, ensured we visited the bookmobile every week, encouraged creativity and inquisitiveness, and turned everyday observations about nature into a science lesson. Those experiences formed the basis of my belief that a good education is essential not only to ensuring future opportunity, but also to appreciating the world in which we live.
It’s hard to keep up with all the studies touting South Carolina as a great place to do business. The latest, from Area Development magazine, ranked South Carolina third-best overall in its 2019 Top States for Doing Business, behind only Georgia and Tennessee.
South Carolina is seeing tremendous economic growth, with new jobs coming into our state almost daily. This creates both opportunities and challenges. We are challenged to ensure we have the workforce ready to take advantage of this job growth, while laying the foundation for a strong economy in the long run.
It is particularly important to ensure our children have the skills to meet the demands of a technology-driven business and manufacturing environment. A good education leads to independent adults and is the foundation of a prosperous, sustainable society. Education is the key to opportunity and choice, and it has never been more important than in today’s economy.
South Carolina’s 2020 legislative session begins Jan. 14, and we will take up unfinished business from last year. At the top of the list is the S.C. Career Opportunity and Access for All Act, which includes raising teacher pay, reducing the number of state required tests, requiring a computer science foundation from elementary school, and providing resources for mental health professionals and school resource officers. It’s designed to ensure that all S.C. children are ready for the workplace of the future and the opportunities that await them.
Although the bill passed in the House, it is now up to the Senate to move us from legislation to law.
During the off-session, as the Senate has continued work on the bill, the House Education Committee has held candid discussions with teachers of the year about how to best address the needs of our children.
As funding for education is a critical piece of meaningful reform, the funding mechanism is also being reviewed.
Great teachers, Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday, in announcing his plan to raise S.C. teacher pay by $3,000 next year, “don’t want to do it for the money.” But, he continued, “they can’t do it without the money.”
Since October, I have visited 12 schools and many classrooms, participated in career fairs and a robotics competition and talked with students about financial literacy, what it’s like to be a legislator, leadership skills, and how to use their individual life stories to make a difference in others’ lives.
If I haven’t learned anything else, I’ve learned that our students are not failing the system. The system is failing our students.
And every day that passes without meaningful education reform is a missed opportunity to better the life of a child.
Here in Berkeley County and in much of South Carolina, we see a growing divide between rural and urban areas in terms of economic growth and job opportunities.
Education reform must include measures to help close that gap, allowing children from Cross or St. Stephen to have the same hope for their future as children from Cane Bay or Goose Creek.
Given the urgency for education reform, where do we go from here? We keep pushing forward.
Under the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas and House Education Chair Rita Allison, the House continues to push for comprehensive and bold education reform. I look forward to working with teachers, parents and community leaders to bring South Carolina’s education system into the 21st century.
Sylleste Davis represents Berkeley County in the S.C. House. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.