Over the past eight months, South Carolina’s students have faced unprecedented educational challenges and hardships related to the impact of COVID-19 on our state. However, in most cases, the adversities and obstacles students are experiencing during the pandemic are not new. Instead, COVID-19 has illuminated, in stark relief, inequities and shortcomings in a public education system that has been underfunded and overburdened by ineffective policies for decades. In the past, these shortcomings have often been masked by the talent and dedication of South Carolina’s professional educators, but in the midst of a pandemic, not even our dedicated educators could fully surmount all the challenges faced by our students.
In response, Palmetto State Teachers Association is releasing a legislative agenda for the 2021 session of the General Assembly that seeks to address and remedy the short and long term challenges faced in our schools. With over 15,000 members, PSTA is the largest organization of professional educators in South Carolina. As a result, our agenda represents the collective voice and insights of the foremost experts on what works in classrooms- our state’s teachers and educational professionals. While passage of each element of this agenda would have important benefits for our students, our members identified the following as most pressing:
Improving teacher recruitment and retention through improved pay and benefit
Providing students with greater interventions and support in early literacy
Providing teachers with protected planning and work time during the school day
Reducing and enforcing state regulations for class size caps and maximum student loads
Reduction of standardized testing
The South Carolina General Assembly faces a host of critically important issues to address in the coming year, but, in order for our state to thrive now and in the future, legislators must ensure that education is a top priority for their work. Our system of education is under tremendous strain, and it is incumbent on our state’s leaders to take the steps necessary to move our schools away from the breaking point and toward a system that can best meet the needs of all students. While PSTA acknowledges that the continued financial impact of the pandemic will make attaining all of the goals in our agenda unlikely in the coming fiscal year, we believe the hard work of building the education system we need for the future must start in the present.