Rep. Rita Allison (R-Spartanburg)

Rep. Rita Allison (R-Spartanburg). Photo provided by the South Carolina Press Association.

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SC House education chairman knows all eyes will be on her this session: 'It is daunting'

When the South Carolina Legislature gavels in for a two-year session at noon Tuesday, state Rep. Rita Allison admits she will be feeling some pressure.

The Spartanburg Republican is the chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, which means she is tasked with leading the key House committee that will guide the Legislature’s response to calls for wholesale education reform.

I spoke with Allison by phone on the eve of the new session to ask her about how she's feeling about education reform this year, and what she thinks holistic reform will actually look like when all is said and done.

Here are some highlights from our interview, lightly edited for brevity.


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Multiple lawmakers pointed to education reform as the top priority for this upcoming legislative session. More than 40 bills have already been filed related to education reform efforts. As chairman of the House committee on education, what do you see looking ahead?

We're very concerned about looking at education holistically. We realize that it's not just one silver bullet. There are lots of components to it. Teacher salary scale and that kind of thing is certainly something we need to look at -- and will look at -- but that is only one component of it. Certainly, it's a big one and we all know at the end of the day that money is very important and money can sometimes help bring more quality to something. But that's just one component.

Students need to have a bill of rights that involves their parents' support and discipline and respect for the education system and those that are in it.

We need to have a teacher's bill of rights for exactly what is expected of a teacher and allowing a teacher to be able to teach what they've been taught to teach. Everybody has a component in this.

The administration needs to be visionary and have leadership and support for teachers. There's a lot of things that work into that. Smaller class sizes have been proven to allow teachers to better serve their students

As you have noted, a number of bills have been pre-filed to address education reform. Do you see education reform efforts as a piecemeal effort done one bill at a time, or do you envision a massive singular bill to address education reform?

Well, it could go either way. There are pieces of legislation that have been already pre-filed that probably would address some of the things we've talked about. But also, there is a direction to looking at it very comprehensively. If we're going to reform, it's like renovating a building. If you're going to renovate, you have got to go in and look at the entire building and everything that makes it up. At the end of the day, to look at it very comprehensively in order to have success, I feel that's the direction we want to go in.

Will one package deal take more time to write due to legal complexity?

It could be.

What is missing in education reform?

The truth of the matter is, you know, we are in South Carolina always scaled at the bottom. There are schools in this state I would put against anybody, but you know that your state is going to be as strong as its weakest link. If we have weak links in this state, we are always going to stay toward the bottom. Not only that but we're leaving out for whatever reason, we're leaving out students. Not every student is going to go to a 4-year college but every student needs to have the opportunity.

Is it daunting knowing education reform is the topic looking ahead?

Yes. There's a lot of people interested in it. It's not a House education issue totally and I think that's the secret to all success is that you be inclusive and listen.

Is it daunting? Yes, because I understand and I made it my calling to understand how important this is to the future of our young people, the future our families and to the future of our state. The excitement that comes to me is that people are talking about it.

We've been listening and together, this is not a one-man show or one-House show, or a one-student show. It is a societal show that we need to be working on.

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Though education is expected to dominate the discussion and debate this session, it is not the only topic to watch. Read more about what to watch at the SC Statehouse in 2019.

Context:  Read the Post and Courier's 5-part investigation into why South Carolina's schools are consistently among the nation's worst.

SC attorney general to take part in anti-offshore testing lawsuit

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About a month after environmental groups and a coalition of coastal towns sued in an effort to block President Donald Trump from opening up the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration, South Carolina's Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Monday that he will join their legal fight.

The optics: Wilson is now the first Republican attorney general to join the legal effort against the Trump administration. He joins nine Democratic attorneys general who joined the lawsuit last month.

Read more about the change of heart by Wilson and Gov. Henry McMaster after their previous open reluctance to pursue legal action.


In other news:

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AND ONE MORE THING:

The Clemson Tigers became national football champions on Monday night, and already a Clemson flag is flying over the Statehouse dome. But will it stay when Gov. Henry McMaster, a University of South Carolina graduate, is sworn-in this week? No way.


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Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.