Gov. Nikki Haley meets with business leaders to discuss education reform

abeam@thestate.comJuly 31, 2013 

Gov. Nikki Haley leaves a meeting Wednesday with various business leaders about her upcoming education reform proposal.

ADAM BEAM/ABEAM@THESTATE.COM

— Gov. Nikki Haley met with about a dozen business and legislative leaders Wednesday morning in a private meeting to discuss the governor’s forthcoming education reform proposal.

In an interview after the meeting – which, like every other education meeting Haley has held, has been closed to the public – the governor said she is getting closer on crafting a proposal she hopes to have ready before the state legislature returns to work in January. While Haley said the proposal will be comprehensive, she acknowledged the most difficult hurdle will be overhauling the state’s complex and confusing education funding formulas.

“You’ve got the rural areas and these kids that deserve a good education that aren’t having the resources that they need and you’ve got these wealthy areas that have everything they need and don’t want to compromise the conditions they are at,” Haley said. “And so bringing those two together is a tough conversation to have.”

Also attending the meeting were Democratic state senators John Matthews of Orangeburg and Nikki Setzler of Lexington, the Senate minority leader. Setzler’s support will be crucial to reaching any type of education reform deal, a matter complicated by his rocky relationship with Haley. During the 2012 election cycle, Haley campaigned against Setzler, a Democrat in heavily Republican Lexington County where Haley once represented in the state legislature. A political action committee affiliated with Haley spent thousands of dollars on ads attacking Setzler. But after Setzler won, Haley reached out to him during her State of the State address, asking for his help in reforming the state’s education policies.

“They are invited to every one of these meetings, because at the end of the day we are all doing this together,” Haley said. “And so having them in there is very important for them to hear what I hear.”

Pamela Lackey, president of AT&T South Carolina, attended Wednesday’s meeting and said she was encouraged to see leaders from both political parties talk about education, saying “everybody is on the same page.”

“The system of education that we have today is working perfectly well for what it was designed for, and that’s a manufacturing/agrarian model of business,” Lackey said. “We’ve got to transform the system we have into a system that will meet the needs of today’s businesses.”

Lackey said that transformation will require “a skill based learning environment, not a seat based learning environment.”

“You sit in the third grade for at least 180 days, make a ‘D’, and you pass. No, we need a system that says, ‘Where is Johnny today and what kind of learning activities does he need to engage in in order to get to the next step,” Lackey said.

Whatever proposal Haley comes up with, it will no doubt become a campaign issue as she runs for reelection in 2014. Sen. Vincent Sheheen, Haley’s likely Democratic opponent, has already criticized the governor for waiting three years before making education reform part of her agenda. Sheheen plans to campaign heavily on an expansion of 4-year-old kindergarten into 17 poor school districts, a $26 million program he sponsored and Haley signed into law.

Wednesday, Haley said her No. 1 focus during the first three years of her campaign was bringing jobs to South Carolina. She said educating South Carolina’s future workforce is “the next step.”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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