Legislative Report – January 22, 2015

The first few weeks of a new session are spent mostly in committee work. My subcommittee has ten pre-filed bills assigned, of which I believe several can be combined. We will get to work on those bills next week.

The Ways & Means Subcommittees have held hearings and received input from state agencies and organizations. I attended the Higher Education Subcommittee and heard from Dr. Jimmy Williamson, President of the Technical College System, and from the 16 technical college presidents.

Chairman Rep. Jimmy Merrill from Daniel Island changed the format for conducting the meeting. In the past, only the Tech System President would present. This year, each of the 16 Technical College Presidents presented. Subcommittee members were well informed prior to the meeting and were able to ask pointed questions of the presenters. A few facts and figures presented: 86% of graduates find jobs; in-state student population is 96%. Job placement rates vary among the colleges partly due to slightly different ways of measuring success. The System was tasked to standardize the process across all 16 colleges. In discussing student debt, the Tech System was praised as the best source of a two-year education with the lowest tuition in the state and with minimal debt incurred by students.

Dr. Mary Thornley, President of Trident Technical College, presented what Trident is doing to serve Boeing. Because of Boeing coming to this state, it has created a cluster of airspace firms all over SC and the industry is still growing. Because of this there is a need for an Aeronautical Training Center. The Center would result in hundreds of jobs for South Carolina. Funds are being raised from several sources to establish the Center and Trident Technical College has asked the State for $10 million.

I serve on the Full Education and Public Works Committee which met this week and heard from 15 agencies/organizations. The newly elected State Superintendent for Education was first and presented a positive and optimistic review. She notified the committee that the new academic standards would be rolled out in February.

Others giving reports were Education Oversight Committee, Center for Educator Recruitment/-Retention/Advancement, First Steps to School Readiness, Southern Regional Education Board, College Board, Institute for Child Success, Palmetto Policy Forum, StudentsFirstSC, SC Parents in Education, Palmetto State Teachers Association, SC Education Association, SC Assoc. of School Administrators, SC School Boards Assoc., and SC Public Charter School District.

Some major points made by several of these organizations are: there are many scholarships for future teachers; there is a need for 4,000 teachers each year but our colleges graduate only 2,000; 336,000 children in SC under the age of 5 and are in need of school readiness.

Governor Nikki Haley gave her State of the State address on Wednesday evening. She covered her plan for the next four years on education and contracting with teachers to serve 8 years in underserved areas of the state, growing the economy, reducing the state income tax from 7% to 5%, increasing the tax on gasoline by ten cents, and reforming the SC Department of Transportation. The Governor promised to veto any bill that did not reform SCDOT, reduce income tax, and then raise fuel tax.

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