South Carolina’s leaders to get back to the basics of state government.
As the 123rd General Assembly Legislative Session begins, there are a number of critical issues that I will work with my colleagues to address. As chairman of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus, I have the unique responsibility of focusing on the issues that impact people, rather than partisan politics. Our priorities will center on public education, health care, job creation and criminal justice reform. It is time to get the job done.
Public education-funding reform is needed. The current system fails to provide a quality education to all children in South Carolina. We must find a way to address funding inequity, which disproportionately disadvantages school districts in minority, rural and low-income communities.
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Improving education begins by valuing our teachers. The current starting salary for an educator in South Carolina is the lowest in the Southeast and among the lowest in the United States. It should come as no surprise that at the end of the 2017-18 school year, over 4,900 teachers left teaching in public schools altogether.
The resulting teacher shortage is a crisis which must be addressed.
The Legislative Black Caucus believes it is South Carolina’s responsibility to provide a high-quality education for every student and a comfortable, professional work environment for every teacher. This legislative session, we will tirelessly advocate better funding for schools and raising teacher pay.
We must confront our health care challenges by working to make health care affordable and accessible. It saddens me to know that South Carolina is among the worst states for health care: a recent study ranked our state 44th in the country in terms of cost, access and outcomes. This is simply unacceptable.
The Legislative Black Caucus will support innovative practices like telemedicine, which allows doctors to see patients remotely. We will continue to work to secure funding for rural hospitals and clinics, such as the Bamberg Barnwell Emergency Medical Center. And we will continue to advocate the expansion of Medicaid, which would bring insurance coverage to nearly 200,000 South Carolinians.
We must do a better job supporting South Carolina’s small businesses, while working to level the playing field for minority-owned businesses. In 2018, African-Americans made up about 30 percent of the state, yet only 10 percent of business owners. Supporting these businesses directly impacts employment opportunities available to our workers and adds to economic growth in our communities. The Legislative Black Caucus will support efforts to expand opportunity and prosperity to all South Carolinians.
Finally, we must address criminal justice reform in South Carolina. We should follow the example of the First Step Act, the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that was recently signed into federal law, and make appropriate changes to state law.
The tragedy that occurred at the Lee County correctional facility in April 2018 was both unfortunate and completely unacceptable. We must address the funding issue correctional facilities face in South Carolina. Many of these facilities are over-capacity and understaffed, which results in dangers to guards and inmates alike.
The Legislative Black Caucus will work to end racial disparities in our criminal justice system. And we will support safer correctional facilities, with a focus on the rehabilitation of individuals.
I am excited to once again lead this historic organization. I want all South Carolinians to know that we will remain steadfast in our dedication to protect, improve and empower minority communities and all communities across the state. Together we can bring much-needed change. The S.C. Legislative Black Caucus will use the 2019 Legislative Session to get back to basics.