State 125

Dick Riley: From ‘Young Turk’ to SC’s ‘Education Governor’

Dick Riley
Dick Riley File photo/The State

Many South Carolinians know Richard “Dick” Riley as South Carolina’s “Education Governor.”

The Greenville Democrat has spent decades working on improving public education in the state and nation.

An attorney, Riley was considered one of S.C. General Assembly’s “young Turks” in the 1960s and the 1970s for challenging the establishment Democrats and helping to usher in reforms that modernized state government.

As governor, Riley helped overcome anti-tax sentiment and championed the passage of a one-cent sales tax dedicated to the state’s public-education system.

The Education Improvement Act of 1984 was the most significant education reform since a 1977 law that laid the groundwork for how S.C. schools are funded.

The law called for improving of teaching basic-skills learning, raising teacher pay, raising accountability for schools and rewarding high performers.

Riley also was the first S.C. governor to serve two terms, overseeing a change to the state Constitution to make a second term possible.

He went on to serve as U.S. secretary of education from 1993-2001 under President Bill Clinton, who offered to appoint Riley to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. Riley declined the offer, telling the president that he felt he could do more good continuing to work on education initiatives.

Riley’s wife Tunky Riley, who died in 2008, also was recognized for her commitment to education.

Jamie Self