For those of you who have not had the opportunity to visit me in Columbia, I sit on the back row of the Republican side of the chamber. This gives me a great vantage point to observe the Chamber and is also part of a conscious effort to keep a group of us together.

To my left are Senator Greg Hembree (Horry – Chairman of Education), and Senator Sean Bennett (Dorchester – Chairman of Ethics). Both were elected for the first time with me in 2012. To my right is Senator Shane Massey (Edgefield), who is our Majority Leader. 

A few weeks ago, we were going through the third reading calendar, which is the final phase in the consideration of bills we have discussed. By this point a bill has typically already had a roll call vote, and this is just a voice vote. Eventually we got to Bill S418, a brief description was read, and the bill passed.

There was no hoopla, no excitement, no media talking about it, and yet the four of us looked at each other and said, “This may be the most significant bill we pass this year.”

The bill that passed, S418, was the Read to Succeed “revamp” bill. If you remember, we passed the original Read to Succeed bill in 2017, with the goal of having everyone reading on a third-grade level by the end of third grade. Statistics show when a child cannot read on a third-grade level by the end of third grade, his or her chances of graduating high school are greatly reduced.

Over the last few years, we have heard from many teachers about changes that needed to be made to the program. We have also been observing “similar” states that are having success in reading, and all of this helped us put the language together for the revised program.

It’s always been the running “joke” when talking about education in South Carolina (though in truth it’s nothing to laugh about) that people would say, “Thank goodness for Mississippi, because at least we aren’t last!” Well, that no longer applies.

The most common rating system for states’ education currently has South Carolina ranked #42 in the nation. Meanwhile, Mississippi has climbed to the ranking of #21. In 2014, under strong leadership, Mississippi started using the Science of Reading (Phonics), across the state. After 10 years, it has made a dramatic impact across all demographics. 

The Chairpersons of the Senate and House Education Committees, the Secretary of Education, and the Governor’s office all worked to pull this bill together, which now mandates the Science of Reading be used statewide.

We are retraining all early childhood and elementary school teachers in the Science of Reading. Our state colleges are updating their curriculum, so we won’t have to continue retraining recent graduates.  

The future of South Carolina Education is bright, and I look forward to seeing the results of one of the most important pieces of legislation not talked about.

In other news, last week was our “crossover” week in the Senate. This means that any Senate Bills not receiving third reading by the end of that week are considered “dead” for the year – and in this case, are “dead” for the end of this two-year session. 

The Senate Finance Committee will work this week to come up with our Budget recommendation to the full Senate. It will be debated on the floor in two weeks.

For a list of other bills that have passed in the Senate since my last newsletter, click here.

As always, thank you for the opportunity to represent District 8 in the South Carolina Senate. It is an honor and privilege that I do not take lightly. 

If there is anything I can do to help you navigate state government or if you just want to share your thoughts and concerns, please call my Columbia office at (803) 212-6148 and my assistant, Ja’vell Bynoe, will be happy to help you.