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House leaders: Expand pre-K; improve high school grad rates

June 18, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina needs to continue to take more steps to overhaul education or risk falling behind other Southern states, House Speaker Jay Lucas said Tuesday.

So while the state Senate plans to debate early in the 2020 session the huge education reform bill the House has already passed, Lucas is going to ask his colleagues in the South Carolina House to take up more changes and head around the state to hear from teachers of the year in each district.

Lucas plans to spend the second half of 2019 gathering information so he can craft legislation to expand pre-kindergarten both in poorer school districts and for poorer families and improve high school graduation rates.

“We are seeing incremental gains. They are seeing astronomical gains,” Lucas said of education improvements in South Carolina compared to other Southern states.

The Republican from Hartsville will take any ideas. One he is already rolling around in his head is allowing students two years of work on coding and programming computers in high school if they want instead of two years of foreign language.

A number that Lucas has been thinking about a lot is the 70 percent of this year’s South Carolina high school graduates who finished with the skills necessary for a career or college. But he also noted that 1 in 5 students who were supposed to graduate this year dropped out between ninth and 12th grade. That lowers to 45 percent the number of teens who were supposed to graduate high school in 2019 who were ready for college or the workplace.

“To say that is abysmal is a compliment to the term abysmal,” Lucas said.

House Education Committee Chairwoman Rita Allison said she plans to take Lucas with her on a tour around South Carolina in late September, holding four or five roundtable meetings with teachers of the year from each of South Carolina’s 82 school districts.

The meetings will be private so the teachers can share any problems or concerns — whether it be about the way kids are raised, the support they get from principals and others, or anything else — without worrying about getting in trouble with school administrators, Allison said.

“Teachers know what their problems are when they shut the classroom door,” the Republican from Spartanburg County said. “We want to hear them.”

The House already passed a more-than-60-page overhaul bill in March that included a student bill of rights and a new committee to oversee education from pre-kindergarten to universities.

The Senate took up a similar bill in pieces, holding a dozen committee meetings to pare down the proposal.

Senators also took some components of the House reform proposals and passed them in next year’s state budget: $159 million to give every teacher a raise; $2 million for more mental health counselors in schools; a reduction in the number of standardized tests; and reinstituted class size limits that were suspended in 2008 because of the Great Recession.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .

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