S.C. lawmakers won’t work overtime in Columbia this year to pass a bill aimed at fixing the state’s schools, despite pressure from some state leaders and a historic teacher rally at the State House last week.
The General Assembly’s official work year ended Thursday, but lawmakers have agreed to return for a few days later this month to handle a few outstanding responsibilities, including passing the state’s $9 billion spending plan and deciding the future of the state’s debt-ridden power company, Santee Cooper.
That agreement, finalized Thursday, won’t include education reforms.
The omission comes despite enormous pressure from Gov. Henry McMaster and teachers to fix the state’s ongoing teacher shortage and pull the state out of the near bottom of national education rankings.
Last week, thousands of teachers and their supporters marched to the capitol to demand higher pay and better working conditions. They were met with much applause, but also some indignation from lawmakers.
“A walkout of the classroom certainly doesn’t help our ability to get support on the issue, which I think is critically important,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, told The State in an exclusive interview at the State House during last week’s rally. Lucas had authored a massive K-12 bill passed by the House in March.
Pledging 2019 would be the year of education, some state leaders were set on passing an education bill this year. But the proposal has stalled in the Senate, dooming its passage for the year.
Still, teachers can expect to see a boost in the state budget. Lawmakers are on track to approve at least a 4% raise for all teachers — more for early-career teachers that are fleeing the profession at higher rates — while also raising starting teacher pay to $35,000.
Senators also hope to pass a one-year suspension of three state-required social studies and science tests, a move aimed at reducing the burden on teachers and students. Whether to strike the tests for a year will be up to lawmakers who return to Columbia this month to reach a compromise on the versions of the state budget that passed the House and Senate.
Senate Education Committee chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, told The State that his committee will work on education reforms through the summer and fall, then send a proposal to the floor for a vote in January.