Politics & Government

SC teachers rip into K-12 reform bill as ‘dangerous,’ ‘largely ineffective’

Too much testing keeps teachers from teaching

Just how much testing is taking place? Here one special education teacher list them for a legislative subcommittee trying to reform the state's education system.
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Just how much testing is taking place? Here one special education teacher list them for a legislative subcommittee trying to reform the state's education system.

S.C. teachers thanked legislators Tuesday for listening to them, then, in the next breath, ripped into a House proposal to overhaul the state’s K-12 schools as “dangerous,” “detrimental” and worse, saying it would be “largely ineffective” in solving the teacher shortage.

“Unfortunately, I believe a lot of the frustrations you’ll hear ... could have been avoided if teacher voices had been better included in the start of this process,” Blythewood High School teacher Patrick Kelly told legislators.

“This decision has led to some fundamental and dangerous flaws in the legislation that is being touted as a way to address the severe challenges we face in our schools.”

The House’s Education and Public Works K-12 subcommittee pushed back by hours its meeting Tuesday on House Bill 3759 so legislators could hear from hundreds of teachers, some of whom drove more than an hour to share their concerns.

So many teachers showed up that staff opened two spillover rooms with TVs airing the meeting.

Teacher after teacher found fault with the K-12 education reform proposal, noting it does not include lowering class sizes, requiring more planning time for teachers or paying all teachers more.

Parts of the bill would be “detrimental” to K-12 education, one speaker said. Another predicted it would be “largely ineffective” in addressing the state’s teacher shortage.

Like the Senate did earlier, the House voted Tuesday to give the state Education Department until Jan. 15, 2020, to recommend the paperwork that can be eliminated or streamlined for teachers and schools, an attempt to address part of the concern about teachers not having enough planning time.

The pay issue will be decided by House Ways and Means Committee, charged with drafting the state’s budget that takes effect July 1. At the request of the state Education Department, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has asked lawmakers to give teachers a 5-percent pay raise. That would cost about $167 million, up from the $155 million originally estimated.

However, any pay hike must consider more than state money, said Mellanie Jinnette, the Chester County School District’s chief financial officer, representing the S.C. Association of School Business Officials.

The state also must keep in mind “a district’s limited ability to raise local funding,” she said, a slap at controversial Act 388, which eliminated school taxes on homeowners.

Sherry Blevins, a special education teacher for more than a decade, told legislators she has felt the direct impact of the teacher shortage.

As a result, Blevins said she teaches a class that has pre-kindergarten through third-grade students. Instead of teaching those students, Blevins said she spends most days giving required assessments. In one case, Blevins said she gave an assessment to a special education student to see if she qualified for the school’s gifted and talent program.

Predictably, the student did not. But the student and others in her classroom lost valuable instruction time for the time-consuming assessment, Blevins said.

“I want to teach,” Blevins said. “I want to be in my classroom with those kids, helping them get as close to caught up as they can possibly get and do those things that weren’t on their wish list when their parents got that (handicapped) diagnosis.”

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, filed the 84-page proposal last month. Senate Education Committee chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, filed a companion bill soon after. Hembree plans to hold four meetings across the state for teachers.

Despite criticisms, both bills have gained co-sponsors in the GOP-controlled Legislature – 36 in the House and six in the Senate as of Tuesday, including some Democrats.

The bills call for raising the starting pay of teachers to $35,000 a year, consolidating school districts with less than 1,000 students and creating a new committee to give the General Assembly feedback on education, from kindergarten to college.

Teachers, in particular, blasted the idea of another education committee to be headed by a “czar,” noting the state already has an Education Department, Education Department board and Education Oversight Committee.

The proposal is a “bill in the making,” House Education and Public Works Committee chair Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, said Tuesday.

“We want to make sure we listen to you so that this bill, when it is passed out on the House floor, we will have all the facts before us, or any amendments (ready) that need to be made,” Allison said.

If S.C. teachers were looking for an advocate, many said they found it in Ridge View High School student Reilly Arford, 18.

“Many of the most influential people in my life have been teachers,” Arford told legislators Tuesday, noting his mother is a teacher.

And, he added, she needs a raise.

“It will give her the opportunity to move her four kids out of a small apartment and into a house,” he said. “It will give her the opportunity not to live paycheck to paycheck. But, most of all, it will give her the opportunity to live instead of merely surviving.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.