Education was once again on deck in Columbia this week as the House passed H.3759—The South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act—by a vote of 113-4.
Championed by Speaker Jay Lucas and House Education Chair Rita Allison, the wide-ranging bill included many significant reforms of South Carolina’s last-in-the-nation public education system, including strengthening and streamlining Read to Succeed’s early literacy efforts, reduced state testing, boosting teacher pay to the Southeastern average, and putting small, shrinking school districts on the path to consolidation to lower administrative costs and get more dollars back into classrooms.
The companion bill (S.419) faces a long, tough slog through the Senate. Senate Education Chairman Greg Hembree has set up a thorough, deliberative hearing process, including a number of meetings around the state to gather input. Senate rules also make it difficult to “sit down” a Senator who has decided to filibuster, and Senator Mike Fanning is promising to do just that, stating when asked if the bill would pass the Senate, “Not if I can help it. My goal is to find the brake pedal.”
Speaking during floor debate, Representative Jay West, husband of a veteran public school teacher, said, “This is a starting point. This is a shift in cultural mindset.” He went on to share challenges he overcame in own education journey: “I didn’t get to have a choice in where I went to school. These kids do not have a choice in many cases. They deserve our best effort.”
That highlights a critical point: “The Year of Education” won’t be complete until we dramatically expand the ability of parents to choose the right education experience for their child. And that’s exactly what bold Education Scholarship Account bills like Representative Shannon Erickson’s (H.3681) and Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey’s (S.556) would do.
The Speaker’s bill makes big strides to address glaring challenges in our current public education system. There is no question that we must make our public schools stronger. And that’s exactly what we see happening in states like Florida that pair bold school choice with other common-sense education reforms.
With innovative but proven school choice ideas like Education Scholarship Accounts, South Carolina could unleash decades of dynamic education opportunity for the students of this state.
To quote Governor McMaster, “If we don’t get it this year, we might never get it, so now is the time.” He’s right. We don’t have a minute to waste. The future of thousands of students and our state’s economic competitiveness is on the line.