The scene at SC State House on May 1 as thousands of teachers rally
A state senator who oversees education policy says his goal is to send a bill improving South Carolina public schools to the Senate floor for a vote in January, when lawmakers return to Columbia to work.
That bill, the Senate’s version of education reform stemming from an outpouring of concerns from teachers will get a hearing next month, said Senate Education Chairman Greg Hembree.
Hembree declined this year to bring his committee back to Columbia this summer for a special session on the bill, despite pressure from S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.
Instead, the Horry Republican told reporters Tuesday he hopes to wrap up the bill in committee before November, then debate it on the floor in the first two weeks of January when state lawmakers return to Columbia to finish the second of a two-year session.
“We’ve got time,” Hembree said. “I don’t want to cut us short.”
Hembree’s comments Tuesday comes as Lucas prepares to file yet another bill on education next year, though its details are still being hashed out, Lucas said.
Lucas and state Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, who chairs the House Education and Public Works Committee, told reporters this month they plan to hold five meetings in September with district-level teachers of the year to gather input ahead of crafting a bill.
South Carolina teachers have long argued low pay and unacceptable working conditions are driving them out of their classrooms — illustrated more than a year ago by The State’s Classrooms in Crisis series. Those grievances sparked a 10,000-person demonstration at the State House in May.
Despite requests from state leaders, Hembree said he felt no pressure to return and fast-track a bill.
Hembree said he also has met with teachers in the Legislature’s off season. He met with six teachers on Tuesday, he said.
Next year is an election year, when every seat in the House and Senate is up for grabs.
Facing that reality, Hembree said the education bill has a chance of moving through to the governor’s pen. But a second piece of legislation? It depends, he told reporters on Tuesday.
If the bill is 85 pages long and tackles too many topics, “no I don’t think so,” he said, referring to the speaker’s bill, which at its conception was 84 pages. “Our process isn’t going to change ... just because it’s an election year.”