S.C. superintendent warns lawmakers about education restrictions

Molly Spearman
Molly Spearman(WRDW)
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 8:40 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - The state superintendent of education warned lawmakers Wednesday that they’d be going down a “dangerous path” by passing bills under their consideration right now.

Those pieces of legislation would restrict what can – and cannot – be taught and discussed in South Carolina schools.

The meeting of the House Education and Public Works Committee focused on five education bills.

They span from banning critical race theory from being taught in schools to prohibiting discussion about gender topics to forbidding teachers to give lessons that could make students feel uncomfortable.

Superintendent Molly Spearman says that last part is not the American way and could be dangerous if it becomes law.

“Some events in our state’s, nation’s, and world’s history make students and educators alike feel uncomfortable,” she said. “But that does not mean that they shouldn’t be taught and students shouldn’t have the opportunity to discuss it, to share their thoughts and feelings with their peers.”

Spearman says lessons on the slave trade, the Holocaust, and Orangeburg massacre need to be taught, even though they may make students and teachers uncomfortable.

She reiterated the state Department of Education has thoroughly reviewed the state’s academic standards and found critical race theory are not part of them.

Spearman distinguished between these standards – which schools are required to teach – and the curriculum, over which she says teachers and schools need to have the latitude to create and decide what’s discussed in their classrooms, as well-trained professionals.

“In a dynamic classroom, there’s so much learning going on that the students facilitate a lot of this learning,” she said.

The superintendent says parents should know what’s being taught in schools and teachers should get carefully worded clarity on these subjects.

But Spearman says this direction shouldn’t come from politicians trying to appease voters in an election year – which it is for all House members.

“I don’t want a teacher to think, ‘Oh, if I say something wrong, I might lose my teaching license,” she said. “That’s — we cannot do that. We cannot do that.”

There was also testimony in favor of the bills – with one group saying they’d like to see lawmakers go even further and require cameras in every classroom to ensure teachers stick to facts and not opinions, as that speaker put it.

Lawmakers move forward on no-excuse early voting

COLUMBIA, S.C. - A bill that would establish no-excuse early voting is moving forward in the South Carolina House.

A panel of representatives on Tuesday also made tweaks to the Republican-backed proposal that would make early in-person voting permanent for two weeks before an election.

Some of those changes include adjusting a rule determining how far apart early voting locations in each county can be.

The legislation was introduced following a record turnout for advance voting in the 2020 general election after a temporary change in voting rules because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The full House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to take up the legislation Wednesday.

The meeting ended early after Chairman Chris Murphy had what a colleague called a medical issue.

The key House committee was holding just its second meeting this session because Murphy has been unable to come to the Statehouse, first because he had COVID-19 and later because of lingering symptoms and problems from the disease.

Murphy started the meeting, then immediately left.

After 30 minutes of debate, Rep. Jay Jordan interrupted and ended the meeting, asking for prayers for Murphy.

Roads, broadband part of House’s $1.8B COVID relief plan

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina House on Wednesday passed its own version of a plan to spend nearly $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money.

The version the House passed 99-11 has just small differences from the proposal passed by the Senate the day before.

The House’s plan spends $800 million on repairing and rebuilding water and sewer systems, $100 million less than the Senate plan.

It also sets aside $400 million for expanding broadband internet into rural areas and gives $100 million to the Office of Resilience to fight flooding and buy land in areas that frequently flood.

That money is not in the Senate plan.

Governor, S.C. House leaders propose income tax cut

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Gov. Henry McMaster was joined by S.C. House leadership and members of the S.C. House Republican Caucus on Tuesday to announce an income tax cut proposal.

The proposal will accelerate the governor’s previous proposal two years ahead of schedule, according to the South Carolina Governor’s Office.

The new proposed income tax cut will immediately lower the tax rate for the 4%, 5%, and 6% brackets to 3% and lower the current 7% bracket to 6.5%.

“This is a pay rise for everyone who is working for a living,” said McMaster. “This tax cut will start an avalanche of change and prosperity, unlike anything we have seen, and add one more reason for South Carolina to have great success in the future.”

S.C. senators map out how to spend SRS settlement money

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina senators spent less than two hours deciding how to spend more than $2 billion in federal money coming to the state.

About $1.7 billion is in COVID-19 relief money and an additional $525 million are fines paid by the federal government in a settlement after a plan to convert plutonium from nuclear bombs into nuclear reactor fuel was abandoned at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.

Senators want to spend COVID relief money on roads, rural broadband and sewage and water plant improvements.

The plan for plutonium spending would give Allendale, Barnwell and Aiken counties nearest the site $341 million and spread the rest of the money around the state. The plan now goes to the House.

Law establishes Historically Black Colleges and Universities Day

COLUMBIA, S.C. - With Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature, South Carolina will celebrate Historically Black Colleges and Universities Day every February.

The governor held a ceremonial signing Tuesday afternoon of House Bill 4576, which sets the day’s observance as the third Tuesday of February.

He called it “a historic moment in many historic moments in our state.”

“The reason South Carolina is so strong, one of the reasons, is because of the contributions of our HBCUs,” McMaster said.

State HBCU presidents and members of the General Assembly attended the signing at the Statehouse.

McMaster called it a historic moment for South Carolina – and the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Deon Tedder, is himself a graduate of an HBCU.

“They produce our best and brightest in this state. In South Carolina, we’re sending a message today that HBCUs matter,” Tedder said.

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