During his first two-year term in the S.C. House of Representatives, S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, served as a member of the House Education and Public Works Committee.
As his second year begins Tuesday, Taylor has been appointed as the committee's first vice chairman
“I believe we're at a real crossroads,” he said. “We have to change the course of public schools, or the American dream will become an American memory. We can't nibble around the edges of the status quo.”
Taylor said he's not faulting teachers, who have an incredible responsibility. Yet public education hasn't changed for decades and needs to get away from the status quo.
He acknowledges, however, that he doesn't have any simple answers to funding issues within the S.C. General Assembly.
“Funding is tough as a budget issue every year,” said Taylor. “We do have to pay for roads and bridges, and there's going to be Medicaid pressure. Yet we know we really have to fund public education in whatever form.”
At a conference hosted by the S.C. School Boards Association last month, funding was the dilemma, said Aiken School Board member Keith Liner.
“There wasn't going to be time for education; that much was said,” Liner noted.
At a S.C. Press Association legislative session last Thursday, several lawmakers statewide discussed the upcoming session, including Taylor. He didn't participate in a session that included education issues.
One of his Republican colleagues, Rep. Kevin Bryant, said that school choice must be included, including private schools.
Otherwise, “If parents aren't happy with their schools, tough luck,” Bryant said. “We must give parents the choice to improve education for their children by providing competition.”
While public school teachers have the potential to help all students master content and be rewarded for that, the system needs a robust competition, said Taylor in an interview.
“What we did last year was to introduce a school choice bill, a parental power bill,” he said. “It would be a very modest scholarship program, targeted for lower socioeconomic children.”
Public education ought to be a priority and stop diverting dollars to education that is not public, said S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, an Orangeburg Democrat.
“A dual system is not going to work,” she said. In an interview, Aiken School Board member Richard Hazen agreed.
“Whatever one calls it, that's a voucher,” Hazen said of scholarship programs. “If it's money to use for a private school, it's taking it away from public education? with so many children in poverty.
Hazen would welcome more opportunities for public school choice options at a time when some schools have 95 percent of their students qualifying for free and reduced lunch fees.
“Aiken is a wealthy county that has a lot of poor families,” Hazen said. “But we're on the right track to close the gap,” he said.
Public education should be a state responsibility, not a local one,” S.C. Sen. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said at the legislative workshop.
“We need to focus on early childhood education,” he said. “That provides the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to 4-year-olds.”
Taylor agrees with need for early childhood from age 3.
“If we can do something to turbocharge education by third grade, so that they're at or above grade level, we will have remarkably changed education,” he said.