Education bill aims to improve early education.

An S.C. Senate education reform bill providing for statewide 4K, early childhood literacy readiness and heightened state authority over struggling school districts passed with a 40-4 vote last week. The bill awaits House amendments.

Critics of the S.C. Career Opportunity and Access for All bill (pdf), such as advocacy group S.C. for Ed, argue that it fails to address class size issues, school district funding or decreased testing, but leaders in South Carolina's workforce development and education sectors welcome some of the bill's initiatives.

Danny Merck, superintendent of the School District of Pickens County, says he is encouraged by the bill's progress toward increased teacher pay, early childhood education and formative assessment measures.

"It's not just something that will affect us this year; it sets the tone for many years to come," Merck said. "I applaud the legislators. They've done an excellent job with coming up with this and it is obvious they have spent a lot of time on it. Now, the House and Senate working together over the next month or so will be very important."

The Senate bill asks the S.C. Department of Education to provide recommendations for consolidating pay bands so that starting teachers have a similar starting salary as teachers employed for several years, according to Ryan Brown, a spokesperson for the department. Brown said critics claim the amendment fails to reward veteran teachers.

A $3,000 raise for all teachers was part of the two-month debate, along with classroom supply stipends and financial assistance for teachers seeking board certification. A House bill passed Wednesday features the $3,000 statewide raise for teachers and was relayed to the Senate Finance Committee. Brown expects the measure to be passed this year.

Across the state, free 4K education will be offered statewide if the bill becomes law, along with measures enhancing early childhood literacy readiness. Statewide 4K education is not included in a previous House education reform bill.

"This is bill is very expansive. The parts that we pay the most attention to are the parts that relate to the Read to Succeed Act and improving the quality of life for teachers, because obviously, there is a teacher shortage here and we're looking to recruit and retain high quality teachers," said Lindsey Jacobs, policy and advocacy director of Greenville-based Public Education...

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