COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday afternoon, legislators began to mull over some potential changes to a bill some say will reform education in South Carolina.
They debated a couple of these amendments for several hours Tuesday.
Last week, Senators put the legislation (S.419) on Special Order and went over the sixty-page bill.
Some of the things in the bill include the removal of some testing, a change to the school start date and five extra days for teachers for planning purposes, only if teachers are paid for those five days of work.
The amendments legislators considered today would change the makeup of the State Board of Education by allowing teacher organizations like the South Carolina Education Association and Palmetto State Teachers Association to recommend teachers for nonvoting positions on the board. Another amendment would remove the five extra planning days for teachers.
Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) said he has drafted up more than 7 amendments to the bill. He said he is using feedback he has received from teachers in his area, “There are various things teachers ought to be able to count on. I believe if we put them together in a Teacher Bill of Rights and put them in the Code -- that will be a tool in the toolbox so teachers can get what they deserve.”
The debate is expected to last several days and maybe even weeks. Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said, "If it takes us weeks to debate this and get it right -- I would hope we wouldn't just walk away from it because it got hard. We need to stick with it and come up with some real reforms that will make our children's education unparalleled in the United States."
Sen. Davis said another amendment he has drafted up would expand the Exceptional Needs Scholarship program to low-income families across the state. "I want to empower lower-income families to escape failing schools. Right now, they're trapped and I don't want to leave them trapped." According to Sen. Davis, this is currently available to families with students with special needs or a disability.
Sen. Hutto said he anticipates legislators to propose amendments that would add 'vouchers' to the bill. "There is a point that vouchers should be debated- but not in this education reform bill."
While Senators were in the chambers Tuesday afternoon, school board members from across South Carolina expressed concerns over a provision in the education bill. The South Carolina School Boards Association said a proposal that would dissolve locally elected school boards violates federal law.
The School Boards Association said right now as it stands, the bill would allow the State Superintendent of Education to seek a state of emergency declaration in a school district that has 65% or more of their schools rated as below average or unsatisfactory for three straight years.
Executive Director Scott Price said the termination of locally funding school boards is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “The removal of an elected school board is a change in the voting practice because it will revoke a voter’s choice in the most recent school board election. And eliminate the rights of voters and future school board elections.”
Legislators did not propose an amendment removing this provision on Tuesday.
Senators will continue their debate on Wednesday.