Weston Newton

This is the year South Carolina begins our educational transformation.

Years of relative inattention to the educational needs of the bulk of our young people have left us with the lowest test scores and some of the most severe teacher shortages in the country.

Reasons for this are many, and embarrassing. But at this point, they no longer matter. What matters is how we are going to put this unacceptable state of affairs behind us.

We owe it to our young people, who must have a solid education in order to have a good chance at a bright future.

We owe it to our teachers, who deserve compensation commensurate with their education and training, as well as relief from unnecessary and burdensome paperwork.

We owe it to our state’s employers, who cannot fill their current 76,000-plus unfilled jobs with educated and-or trained workers.

Finally, we owe it to ourselves to muster the dignity and self-respect to provide our children with the tools to make the lives for themselves that our parents provided us. Those tools were in no way simply “minimally adequate.”

The vehicle with which we are prepared to challenge our educational status quo is called the S.C. Career Opportunity and Access for All Act (H.3759). We are currently holding hearings and taking testimony from stakeholders and anyone with a good idea to share.

In fact, a few weeks ago, on a Tuesday evening, we were visited by several thousands of public school teachers from around the state, many of whom drove hours to visit with us.

These good folks shared more than five hours of wisdom and from-the-heart experience with us. Not only was your legislature grateful for this excellent tutorial, you can rest assured that much of their conversation will be reflected in our work product.

The task we have undertaken will probably not be completed by the first Thursday in June at 5 p.m., but we will have made a good start.

Here are a few of the items you will see:

• Our school teachers will get raises. We are mostly agreed that beginning, certified teachers will start at no less than $35K, with experienced teachers receiving a sum at least at the regional average, with a goal of not less than the national average in five years.

• We have already passed a Joint Resolution in the House to mandate that the Education Department make recommendations for paperwork relief by Jan. 15, 2020.

• There will be new requirements for school boards concerning ethics and accountability. No more nepotism or misuse of funds.

• Superintendent of Education will consolidate tiny districts of less than 1,000 students, if they chronically underperform.

• Also, funding will move toward the classroom and away from administration. One district currently spends $3.1 million on operations and $1.8 million on school board, administration, etc. There are only 711 students.

As we refine the details of the reform, I will report. At the least, we have defined the scope of the task. It is enormous.

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