COUMBIA, S.C. – Hoping to ease the concerns of teachers, an S.C. House panel voted 7-0 Thursday to adopt changes to its education reform bill.

The proposal is expected to be debated by the full House Education and Public Works Committee next week.

An attempt by state Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, to stall the bill, carrying it over until next week with no action, failed.

The amended bill — H. 3759, filed by powerful House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington — now includes a “teacher bill of rights,” which seeks to promote respect for teachers, reduce their paperwork and increase their pay.

The House panel deleted a controversial provision to have the state Department of Education study changing the way teachers are paid. Teachers — now paid based on their classroom experience and degrees — were worried that their future raises would be based on student performance.

Since the bill was filed in January, teachers have cried foul, arguing the bill was crafted by legislators without their input. Teachers also said the bill would not address the state’s teacher shortage or fix failing S.C. schools and school districts.

But after changes were made to the bill Thursday — with the expectation that more changes are coming — teachers’ groups said they are “cautiously optimistic” about the K-12 proposal.

The Senate’s K-12 education subcommittee also is scheduled to hash out some amendments to its companion education reform bill — S. 419 — next week.

“It’s safe to say we feel more optimistic today than we did two days ago,” said Nicole Walker, board member of SCforED. That grassroots teachers’ group met with Lucas’ staff, and Democratic state Reps. Russell Ott and Mandy Powers Norrell on Wednesday. “We did feel like our voices were heard. We felt like our concerns were taken seriously.”

However, teachers’ groups still have concerns about parts of the proposal.

They oppose the creation of a new “Zero to Twenty” panel to study kindergarten to college education issues, saying it will add another layer to the state’s education bureaucracy, which includes the state Department of Education, the Education Oversight Committee and other groups.

Govan unsuccessfully tried Thursday to amend the House bill to remove the “Zero to Twenty” panel.

“We just want to slow it up enough to be sure all the concerns ... are addressed,” Govan said. “This is the best shot that we will ever get, perhaps in my lifetime, of having a major reform bill pass in the General Assembly.”

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