Busy legislative session kicks off with education focus

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Jeff Bradley

The second half of the 123d Session of the South Carolina General Assembly is now underway, and it appears it will be a very busy time for both the House and the Senate between now and the end of the session in early June.

I am currently finishing my third two-year term since being elected in 2014, and I am expecting this will be the most successful for getting major initiatives underway, especially in the education arena.

As I sat in the House chamber a week ago, watching Gov. Henry McMaster make his State of The State address, from our Beaufort County delegation seating area near the back of the Chamber floor, I was truly pleased to see how our House members, with strong encouragement from the governor, have been able to move public education to the top of the priority list for our state government in 2020.

Helping to revitalize public school education in South Carolina was the primary goal of my own platform when I declared for office six years ago, and I am honored to be one of the co-sponsors of the transformative education bill (House Bill No. 3759) that we passed at the end of the first half of this session, that is now in the hands of the state Senate.

Titled "The South Carolina Career Opportunity and Access for All Act," this education bill aims at fundamentally reforming the way our state educates public school children, and includes spending $211 million in this year's budget and raising starting teacher salaries from $32,000 to $35,000, plus giving every teacher at least a 4% raise.

The pay increase will boost South Carolina's national ranking for average teacher pay from 41st into the top 25 states, and it will be, we hope, a solution to attracting new college graduates into the profession and retaining current teachers in our state who have been fleeing the profession or moving elsewhere.

Another important aspect of the South Carolina education initiative announced by Gov. McMaster is to fund full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten programs for Medicaid eligible children in public schools and private childcare centers in all of the state's 79 school districts.

Currently 17 of those school districts (including Beaufort County) were not eligible for this funding. In Beaufort County, this initiative will positively impact more than 1,100 youngsters ages 3 and 4.

I fully agree with the governor as he points out that improvement of the education of our youngest children will set them on a better path to success and thereby enhance the future prosperity of our state economy.

In the area of higher education, I also join with the governor's pursuit of making our public universities, colleges and technical schools more accessible and affordable for all South Carolina students.

Last year the Legislature took a bold step by freezing college tuition for in-state students, and we will make an effort to do it again by providing a 5% funding incentive for each institution that does not raise tuition.

Additionally, the governor is seeking our approval for $164 million in the new budget to provide need-based scholarships and grants to open the door of opportunity for many young people who cannot afford college without scholarships, grants or other financial assistance.

Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the S.C. House of Representatives, serving Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie Island.

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