Focus on education a state priority in 2019

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Weston Newton

Since my thoughts last appeared in this space, much has transpired.

My older brother, Howard, passed away unexpectedly. He was not only my best friend, but also my first role model, as well as the other end of our daily telephone conversation.

His passing has made wonderfully vivid to Rose and me how fortunate we are to have such lovely neighbors, a caring church family, and a community of friends who have showered us with loving kindness. We are forever humbled and grateful.

We have also been painfully reminded that each of us has only an allotted number of days to nurture and prepare our children to thrive in an increasingly uncertain world. In this, we have common ground with every other parent on the planet, to one degree or another.

Even as we are all human, therefore flawed, we try to model examples of ethical and moral behavior, but for the vastness of knowledge, we depend on their teachers for much of other education.

Thus, I was heartened by the inaugural address of Gov. Henry McMaster as he outlined his plans to make this year the year when South Carolina turned the corner on public education that was simply "minimally adequate."

The popular governor backed up his inspiring rhetoric with a budget that placed strong emphasis on retaining and hiring the best teachers we could attract.

As a state, we rank 25th in per-student expenditure, but are at or near the bottom in test scores and other quantifiable measures. My friend and desk mate, Rep. Bill Herbkersman inferred from this, not unreasonably, that we are buying too much administration for our education dollars.

He has filed a bill that moves our education investment closer to the classroom by raising teacher salaries to above regional averages. Initially, reallocating some administrative funding would pay for the raises. The measure has created quite a stir.

In other Statehouse business, I have co-sponsored a bill that went directly to the House floor and passed, that would give county treasurers the ability to waive any late county tax payment penalties for 90 days for any federal employee, due to the continued shutdown. I am confident the Senate will do the same in the coming week.

Last week, I headed to D.C. to meet Rose and daughter Eliza Rose's eighth-grade class field trip participants. I helped coordinate visits with Congressman Joe Wilson and good friend, Sen. Tim Scott, as well as observation time in the House gallery.

While in D.C., Rose and I attended a Washington Post Live event on "Transformers in Education," talking about both K-12 and higher education.

Speakers examined the most innovative and compelling initiatives transforming schools today. They discussed how new technologies are reshaping traditional models of education, and highlighted successful college alternatives geared toward preparing the next generation of students for the jobs of the future.

The House is working with the governor to make education a top priority this year, which was reflected in much of last week's discussion.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.

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