South Carolina State Senator Vincent Sheheen recently announced a new education initiative on Monday he calls "Back to School, Back to Basics".
"If we're going to change things, we have to get back to these fundamental issues: higher teacher pay, smaller class sizes and a child's opportunities not (being) dependent on where they were born," said Sheheen, who will face Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and three others in November.
Sheheen has consistently been trying to reform the state's education system. He introduced a bill last year in an effort to expand the state's free all-day four-year-old kindergarten program to reach more districts. The program is currently geared for at-risk children, but Sheheen plans on further expanding it to allow all students whose parents want them to attend.
A similar bill was passed this year by the General Assembly, developing the kindergarten program into more low-income areas.
Sheheen also discussed raising teacher salaries to meet the national average of around $56,000. The average salary for teachers in South Carolina is currently almost $48,000. He believes doing this will not allow keep more high-quality teachers within the state, but also attract more new teachers.
Sheheen also plans on instituting a "one South Carolina-approach" to funding in order to give rural schools equal funding and attract high-quality teachers to those areas.
"I'm a big believer that you don't need and you shouldn't have a bunch of gimmicks to improve education," Sheheen said. "You really need to focus on getting kids early and empowering teachers."
The South Carolina Education Association fully supports Sheheen's plans. In an email to Cynthia Roldan for The Post and Courier, SCEA president Bernadette Hampton stated it was nice to have a candidate who "gets it" in terms of public schools, "after four years of neglect in funding education on the part of our current, veto-prone governor."
"The South Carolina Education Association supports Sen. Sheheen's holistic approach to funding education equitably among all school districts, particularly those in rural areas," Hampton said. "The SCEA has asserted time and again that the General Assembly must fully fund education according to the Education Finance Act of 1977, something legislators have failed to do an estimated 66 percent of the time for more than three decades."
It is unclear how much these reforms will cost the state. Sheheen stated it would take a few years to phase them in.
Governor Nikki Haley, running against Sheheen this November, is also planning education reforms. According to spokeswoman Chaney Adams the plans include improving Internet connectivity, increased funding for reading teachers, as well as increased funding for rural districts.
"The Haley education reforms will lift up students in all parts of our state, especially in traditionally overlooked rural and poor areas, with a critical focus on reading skills and technology," Adams said. "Governor Haley has proven that she makes a difference for students, parents, and teachers, and we welcome Senator Sheheen's support."
According to polling data from website Real Clear Politics, Haley enjoys a 15-point lead with three months to go before the election.