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SC Senate president: No special session for education reform

May 31, 2019
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, left, and Gov. Henry McMaster, right, discuss McMasters budget vetoes during a news conference, Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. McMaster said his few vetoes show a willingness to cooperate between lawmakers and himself. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, left, and Gov. Henry McMaster, right, discuss McMasters budget vetoes during a news conference, Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. McMaster said his few vetoes show a willingness to cooperate between lawmakers and himself. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Education reform is on the minds of South Carolina leaders, but the timetable for dealing with it hangs on a difference of opinion between the governor and Senate president.

Sen. Harvey Peeler, who presides over the Senate, has rejected Gov. Henry McMaster’s call to bring senators back for a special session this year to deal with the issue.

McMaster had urged senators to return sometime in 2019 because while they had a successful session, they did not debate a massive education overhaul bill passed by the House. The Republican governor said any delay on education reform could keep businesses from locating in the state.

“There is no reason in the world why we can’t take another big step,” McMaster said Wednesday as he announced his budget vetoes.

Peeler responded to McMaster on Thursday, leaving little doubt he’s not inclined to bring senators back this year.

“Our goal is for the Senate Education Committee to have their version of the Education Reform Bill ready for the Senate to debate when the General Assembly convenes in January,” the Republican from Gaffney said in a statement.

The Senate Education Committee has met about a dozen times so far in 2019, carefully reviewing the bill and cutting it down by about a third.

“The Senate knows the importance of public education,” Peeler said. “The Senate is listening to parents, teachers and students.”

When the Legislature adjourned for the year May 9, House Speaker Jay Lucas said he wished the Senate had debated the House education bill, but added that he always planned for any overhaul of the state education system to not finish in 2019.

The Republican speaker from Hartsville planned to wait until 2020 to take up changes in the four decade old complex education funding formula, giving members the offseason to read a 100-page report from the state’s chief economist, Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office Executive Director Frank Rainwater. He also wants to get teacher salaries up to the national average in five years.

“I always knew education was going to be a multiyear fix,” Lucas said.

And the Senate did pass some components of the reform bill as items in South Carolina’s $9 billion budget, like $159 million to give every teacher a raise and boost the state’s starting teacher salary to at least $35,000 a year.

Other provisions in the budget reduced the number of standardized tests, gave $2 million for more mental health counselors in schools and reinstated class size limits that were suspended in 2008, unless a school district proves that it can’t comply.

“Education won in South Carolina,” Lucas said. “When you look at the budget, when you look at teacher raises, when you look at resource officers in school, counselors in school — all the things we did in the budget, it is a huge start.”

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