Legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate stated emphatically in January that education reform would be the top priority for the 2018 session. But as in recent years, it appears the passage of significant legislation will have to wait at least another year.
The House approved an 84-page bill in March. It would give the state education superintendent more ability to take over low-performing school districts, create a $100 million fund to help bring businesses to places where schools are poor and struggling, and create a student "bill of rights" as well a new Zero to Twenty Committee to oversee education from prekindergarten to universities.
The Senate has significantly revised the legislation and getting agreement with the House version could be difficult – even if the Senate could pass a bill before adjournment. The chances of that appear slim.
The legislative impasse is just one of the issues that teachers are vowing to speak out about on Wednesday when they converge on the Statehouse. More than 1,000 have signed an online pledge that they will take a day away from school, walking out in protest of lawmakers’ failure to address key concerns.
After passage of the House bill, teachers complained about the legislation not including a 10 percent raise and smaller class sizes, as well as a guaranteed 30-minute break to eat lunch, use of a bathroom away from children, and hiring of more counselors and support staff.
The walkout is being supported by SC for Ed, an organization of teachers, which called for support of the Statehouse rally in an online statement: "For over a decade educators in this state have been continuously pushed aside and neglected as we give our best to the students we love so dearly including the clothes off our backs, the money in our wallets, the love in our hearts and the tears in our eyes.”
When the protesting teachers reach the Statehouse, they are likely to find lawmakers receptive to their arguments but not enamored with their methods.
Leaders, including the governor, have publicly stated they cannot support the teachers walking out of school in such a protest. And Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, a leading advocate for education reform, on Monday said she, too, cannot back the teachers in their protest. Symbolically, she plans to be at a school Wednesday to substitute for a teacher taking part in the walkout.
“I am not doing this to help facilitate the walkout, but rather to do all I can to ensure as many students as possible receive the instruction they deserve,” Spearman said.
“All can agree that areas of South Carolina’s education system are in need of improvement. This year, I have worked with the legislature to raise teacher salaries, provide additional mental health and safety resources for all students, and reduce excessive testing that takes valuable time away from teaching. Progress continues to be made but much more needs to be done.
“I support teachers using their voice to advocate for needed change and share in their commitment to ensuring reforms become reality. However, I cannot support teachers walking out on their obligations to South Carolina students, families and the thousands of hardworking bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors, aides and custodial staff whose livelihoods depend on our schools being operational.”
As much as teachers have justification in frustration over state leaders’ inability to make significant education changes as promised, a walkout protest sets the wrong example for the very students they work daily to educate. If those students walk out of the classroom in protest, they will be punished in some form.
There are times and places to air grievances. A May 1 school walkout is not one of them.