Lawmakers plan to fix education system this year

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers say they are confident a solution to fixing the state’s education system will be resolved this legislative session.

Members of the Senate education subcommittee met for the first time Wednesday to discuss their version of comprehensive legislation set to change K-12 and higher education. Subcommittee Chair Sen. Greg Hembree of North Myrtle Beach said the proposed legislation constructed by House Speaker Jay Lucas is about modernizing the state’s existing system and not reforming it.

“Quite frankly, this is the year to do it,” the Republican lawmaker said. “Next year is an election year for everybody, and I’m afraid if we’re not pushing it hard, we will lose the momentum.”

The proposed bill would raise the minimum salary of first-time teachers to $35,000, consolidate poorly performing schools and eliminate three assessments for elementary age students. Hembree praised Lucas and members of his task force for doing the “heavy lifting” on the 80-plus pages of the bill and said Wednesday’s meeting was for organizational purposes and public testimony will be scheduled for later dates, some to be scheduled across the state.

“I think we need to have these meetings after hours so we can hear from students, teachers and parents,” Hembree said. “If we’re going to talk about guns and dogs, we sure can have meetings about education.”

Members of the subcommittee equally expressed their dedication to making education a priority this session. Senate President Harvey Peeler said it will take members of the General Assembly to have uncomfortable conversations in order to find a successful solution.

“We need to talk about what we have been doing wrong and how we can improve on it,” the Gaffney lawmaker said. “For once, all the winds are blowing in the same direction. This time it’s put up or shut up.”

Hembree said he wants to conclude discussions on the bill by March and plans on hosting four public meetings across the state.