The S.C. Senate is expected to continue a debate on an omnibus education package this week, entering into floor challenges on school starting time and private school vouchers.
Hours after teachers convened at the Statehouse on Wed. Jan. 29, senators said no to an amendment that would have established a Teacher Bill of Rights that offered legal action for violations after days of debating the proposal.
The final version of the Teacher Bill of Rights in the Senate's education bill, S. 419, looks similar to the House's original version in its education package. It creates a list of rights that school districts should aim for, but offers no legal recourse for teachers.
Senate Education Chair Greg Hembree (R-North Myrtle Beach) and Isle of Palms Republican Sen. Chip Campsen were among the majority opposing making it legally actionable.
"I agree with all those statements (to be aspirational) but as far as having a cause of action flow from those principles that could be problematic," Hembree told Statehouse Report, Charleston City Paper's sister publication.
Hembree said it will keep "dollars in the classroom instead of the courtroom."
Former teacher and Great Falls Democratic Sen. Mike Fanning said the Senate "slapped teachers in the face and flipped them off" when it came to the bill of rights.
"The Senate does not want teachers to have these rights," he said.
S.C. Education Association President Sherry East said making the rights actionable is "the whole point" of protecting teachers and giving them autonomy over their classrooms.
Another amendment last week expanded scholarships to education majors in an effort to increase teacher recruitment.
Another big issue this week could be school choice, Hembree said. Beaufort Republican Sen. Tom Davis told The State last month he would push for an amendment that would offer public assistance to low-income students for attending private schools, much like the state's current voucher program for students with disabilities.
East told Statehouse Report that should private school vouchers become a part of the big bill, the organization will join grassroots SCforEd in its calls for killing the bill.
The S.C. House of Representatives is set to pass a standalone bill seeking to establish a Teacher Bill of Rights. The bill has similar aspirational language that does not include legal action steps like the Senate's amendment.