In what amounts to a pregame press conference, members of the state House and Senate gathered with the media in the Solomon Blatt Building on Thursday to discuss the upcoming session.
What to expect? Well, that could depend on who you ask.
While state Rep. Anne Parks was not among Thursday’s panelists, she had in December told members of the Greenwood SC Chamber, during the Chamber’s annual gathering with the local legislative delegation, that she did not expect much to come out of the session because it’s an election year. Her longtime peer, Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, had a different message Thursday. She said because it is an election year, lawmakers absolutely should get something done. A good message from a longtime lawmaker who frequently references how the two bodies of government keep “kicking the can down the road.” We’d prefer she prove Parks wrong.
Almost to a person, however, lawmakers said education issues are going to be tackled right out of the gate. That might include teacher pay, funding inequities and universal K4 education. But don’t expect anything major long before the session comes to a close. Banter back and forth over teacher pay alone would make one doubt there will be quick, if any, consensus about where the money pot is shared.
While the majority of panelists — Republicans and Democrats — seemed to agree that overall state teacher pay needs a bump there was some healthy discussion.
Sen. Vince Sheheen, D-Kershaw, and Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, were aligned on teacher pay needing to be addressed, but Hembree said he worries sometimes “about the narrative that teachers are woefully underpaid.” Noting the average teacher salary is $52,000, plus the benefits package that includes retirement, puts many teachers at about $92,000 per year.
And Hembree sounded a message we have also sounded, which is the need to “raise the profession up” by allowing teachers to teach, especially in the earlier grades.
He also sounded the call for the need to ensure the high salaries are tied to having high-quality teachers and engaged parents in the classroom.
We could be wrong, but we expect a robust session with plenty of discussion on what to do with surplus revenue — please don’t send out any more $50 checks to taxpayers, governor — how to reform or adjust the state’s public education needs, infrastructure and, interesting enough, the availability of broadband.
Yes, broadband. As lawmakers ready to consider the sale of Santee Cooper following the V.C. Summer nuclear plant debacle, some lawmakers want to tread into the waters of internet access being, in essence, a utility that the state could ensure rural areas can access. With internet being handled in the private sector, this should be interesting to watch, but the points are well taken that not having access to the internet in rural areas affects far more than people’s ability to stream Netflix. It has an impact on continuing education at home.
By the way, if you’re enough of a political process wonk, and if you can get away with it at work, you’ll be able to livestream many of the committee meetings at the Statehouse. Enjoy. And get some popcorn ready.