With the start of the 2019 legislative session just weeks away, the time for platitudes about comprehensive education reform is over. Unlike previous years, state lawmakers must back up their words with action and make meaningful changes if they want to lead South Carolina out of its education abyss.
The state’s school woes have been apparent for decades and highlighted over the years in study after study. But as The Post and Courier’s Thad Moore reported Sunday, these studies have too often ended up collecting dust after eliciting false hopes that drastically needed changes would follow.
This time, the call for major improvements comes in the wake of The Post and Courier series “Minimally Adequate,” which examined the roots of the state’s education problems, their devastating impacts and possible solutions.
The stories have sparked promises from Democrats and Republicans to finally treat the issue like the crisis that it is. We have heard these pledges before, but it is imperative that lawmakers follow through this time. They took a promising first step Tuesday, as senators pre-filed more than three dozen education-related bills that include welcome proposals for a long-overdue increase in teacher pay, elimination of some state-mandated testing and increased school choice.
The state’s education conundrum is enormous and complex, cutting across racial, economic and geographic lines. And that is part of the problem: Where to start? In the past, the state has opted for quick fixes rather than a comprehensive plan. That is unacceptable. Education in South Carolina is broken, and half-measures and Band-Aids won’t fix it.
All South Carolina students deserve a quality education, not just something that is “minimally adequate” — which in itself is a disappointing standard that too many schools still fail to attain. Students need an education that will help prepare them for college or a career. Employers need an educated workforce, or the state’s economic boom eventually will go bust. There is a lot riding on this for everyone.
As the real power in South Carolina, the Legislature is the key to making this happen. Lawmakers have to figure out a better school funding system than our outdated method that clearly doesn’t work.
“We have only funded education at the minimum level required eight times in 40 years,” Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Great Falls, said. “And that is criminal. We need to hold ourselves accountable.”
Funding reforms must include taking another look at Act 388, which has choked off a critical source of school funding. Teachers need to be valued, supported and paid like the professionals they are so they will stop leaving the job in droves. Standards must be raised. Inequities must be erased.
Study after study has identified many of these issues and a host of others. The state Supreme Court also has ordered a reluctant Legislature to make major changes. Calls for comprehensive education reform can no longer be ignored, and lawmakers must embrace their obligation to make sure it happens. Hopefully the bills pre-filed this week will provide momentum for the new legislative session and lead to meaningful, comprehensive reform.