Now that the historic teacher rally in Columbia is past, I suspect the political class in Columbia is heaving a huge sigh of relief and hoping the end of the school year will cause everything to die down and maybe even go away. It would be a great mistake on the part of the teachers and groups that made the rally happen to turn down the heat. What happens over the next several months is critical.
I would hope that educators across the state will now push hard for the following:
• To begin with, the development of any education reform legislation to be considered next year needs to start from scratch. Further, teachers that work in real schools and classrooms need to be at the table from the get-go. The legislation that was proposed this past January was essentially written in a back room without meaningful educator input and mostly reflected regurgitated ideas that had no research base and haven’t worked elsewhere. I would hope legislators learned their lesson from this blunder. The development process for any education legislation needs to be fully inclusive and transparent.
• Further, any education reform legislation must address the funding issue in our state. Schools are now funded at 2009 levels. This is 2019, and there are more state mandates than ever before. The lack of funding negatively impacts teacher retention, class size, programs and services, facilities, safety, and above all, equity across districts. Unless the funding problem is solved first, anything else that gets passed will be meaningless noise.
• Finally, the organizations and people that made the rally happen need to expand their focus to get teachers energized to vote in 2020 legislative elections. Teachers in South Carolina have not traditionally voted in large numbers, which means they haven’t had much serious pull in Columbia. If legislators know that educators are watching closely and will judge them on election day, they will treat teachers with more political respect versus with the usual platitudes.
The rally was a great and inspiring start, but without strong and purposeful follow-up, its long-term impact will be limited at best.
One last thought... The group “SC for Ed” has clearly demonstrated that it can make things happen. It would be a grave mistake on the part of the governor, the superintendent of education, the legislature, and even local politicians to ignore this fact.
(Guest columnist Dr. Frank Morgan is a retired educator and education administrator who lives in Camden, S.C.)