State Senate passes education reform bill; Legislation now heads to House floor

VIDEO: Final reading of education bill set for Thursday in state Senate

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Senate passed S.419, the education reform bill Thursday afternoon with a 40-4 vote.

Thursday’s vote was the third and final one needed in the Senate before the bill can move to the House floor.

After weeks of debate and hundreds of amendments, senators voted 41-4 to approve the bill in its second reading Wednesday.

"Sometimes we pass things we don't spend as much time or effort or energy on as we should," Sen. Greg Hembree said. "I'm just as proud of my colleagues in my Senate as I've ever been."

Senators voted to pass the bill they had been debating for eight weeks. Over the last two months, senators added some things to the bill, like duty-free time for teachers and expanding lottery scholarship enhancements for education majors.

The 60-page bill touches nearly every aspect of education in South Carolina.

"I'm excited that we're expanding 4-year-old kindergarten across the state," Sen. Vincent Sheheen said. "It's never been done before. We are behind many other states. We know four-year-old kindergarten works."

The South Carolina Education Association says the bill isn't perfect but they believe it is a good first step. They say there are things in the bill they like and they believe signing it into law will make a difference.

"It has been amended to a spot we are okay with," SCEA President Sherry East said. "Is this the big sweeping reform we need? No. Is it detrimental, horrible and worth quitting your job over? I don't think so."

But the grassroots teacher group SC for Ed called Wednesday a "shameful day" in South Carolina.

"It is very far from perfect," SC for Ed Founder Lisa Ellis said.

SC for Ed says there are concerns that aren't addressed in the bill, like a teacher bill of rights, smaller class sizes and local control for the school start date.

The group has been vocal in their opposition to the bill and they say they have been villainized for speaking out.

"If you don't understand the teachers in the classroom are there for the best interest of the student then you don't understand education," Ellis said.

Three Democrats and one Republican voted against the bill in the Senate Wednesday.

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