Bringing South Carolina Schools Back From the Bottom

 

    A quality public education is the cornerstone upon which the foundation for success in life is derived. This is a fundamental right that should be afforded to all students, regardless of background, socioeconomic status, or zip code. At current, our statehouse is failing our children and young adults. South Carolina ranks dead last in education in the United States. We need to prepare our students for success in post-secondary education. This is an issue which I take personally. I have two children who are currently receiving an education in the South Carolina public school system. To say I’m invested in education would be an understatement. The 112th District includes 7 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and the largest high school in the state of South Carolina, with a new high school being built currently. More than 14,000 kids are educated in the District each school day. I am also cognizant of the fact that we cannot solve these problems simply by just throwing more money at them and hoping they’ll fix themselves. There is no magic, silver bullet that will fix our education system. These issues didn’t manifest overnight, and will not be fixed overnight.

    Einstein is famously quoted as saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result”. The current state of the education system in South Carolina personifies this definition. To make things better and start our public education system back on the path to prosperity will involve a systemic, multifaceted approach. It will require the federal, state, and local governments working in tandem to provide adequate funding and oversight.

Here are some of my suggestions on how we strengthen our education system:

  • Hire more teachers and pay them a competitive wage to reduce classroom size and ensure the best and brightest are teaching our students. Studies have shown that once a student to teacher ratio drops below 20:1 that students perform better and achieve higher standardized test scores. We also need to incentivize our teachers by rewarding student growth not just performance on standardized tests. The latest iteration of the state budget included a 1% increase in teacher pay, while the cost of living has increased by 2%. For our educators, this is a pay cut, not to mention wholly inadequate to resolve the issues related to teacher retention. After many discussions with a multitude of educators, an increase in pay that keeps them from having to hold a side job, will create an environment that stems the flow of great educators fleeing the profession. 
  • Supporting STEM-A focused curriculum. A STEM-A focused education encourages our children to develop the skills to engage in critical thinking, increase science literacy, and boosts the ability for our students to be competitive in the global market. Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Arts education provide the best opportunity for our students to transition to post-secondary education and ultimately makes them better citizens once they transition into the workforce.
  • Bring back the trades. Students who struggle academically need to be prepared to transition to the workforce immediately after high school. It is incumbent upon us to provide these students with the necessary tools to ensure their success. Woodworking, metal working, CNC – AutoCAD, Autobody and repair, small engine repair, auto mechanic, and welding trades should be offered to our students to ensure the smoothest of transitions into the workforce.
  • Support for teachers in the classroom.  The classroom teacher is, for many parents and students, the first and last line of contact with the school district. We need to elect legislators to the General Assembly who respect this position. It is time for Legislators to sit down, and do something that is antithetical to their usual behavior: Stop Talking. We need to listen to our teachers and take their view of the issues they face and support legislation that reflects real answers to the problems of the classroom. 
  • Make two year colleges and technical schools tuition free. The last thing a student needs once they graduate from one of these institutions is crushing debt. As these students transition into the workforce, they immediately begin contributing to the tax base as well. Having the ability to immediately contribute to the tax base, while simultaneously having the funds to live independently, many for the first time, allows students to begin their adult life in a situation that set them up for success. This is especially important to those students who come from marginalized and lower income communities. Attending post-secondary education tuition free should come with a couple of caveats:
    • First, that the student stay in state for the length of time they attended post-secondary education tuition free, to keep those tax dollars in South Carolina. Should they move, they will be responsible for paying back the state of South Carolina for any remaining tuition payments.
    • Second, if a student does not graduate, they have an additional two years to graduate from the institution, or they will be responsible to pay any tuition funds used at the institution.

    As said previously, there is no magic bullet to fix our education system. However, by closing our moths and opening our ears, and actually listening to those out on the front lines, we will start to close the gap in education and get our state and district back on the path to prosperity and progress.