By Andy Owens
Published Oct. 31, 2013
When Gov. Nikki Haley traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, last month to attend an international automotive show, she and economic development officials were met with one specific question from the more than 30 companies they talked to: How is your K-12 education in South Carolina?
All of them had heard about South Carolina’s pro-business climate. They knew about the lower labor costs, lack of unions and the governmental support of manufacturing. But they didn’t know whether South Carolina had an educational system that could sustain a multigenerational workforce, she said.
“Every single one of those meetings, every single one, the very first question they asked me was K-12. What’s your education?” Haley said. “That floored me. Not tax structure, not infrastructure.”
Haley gave a preview of an education initiative she plans to launch in January during a talk Wednesday at the Summerville Rotary Club meeting. She also discussed South Carolina’s economic gains; her frustration with getting answers from the president’s administration about health care reform; and the state’s focus on bringing jobs to rural parts of the state.
Haley said her experience growing up in Bamberg County helped her understand the need for economic development in rural counties and helped her understand the educational disparity in counties with a smaller tax base.
“I was born and raised in Bamberg, where we didn’t know what we didn’t have,” Haley said. “I then lived in Orangeburg, where they spent more time on discipline than they did teaching in the classroom.”
Today, Haley said her daughter attends River Bluff High School in Lexington County, where technology touches every student. Each classroom has flat-screen televisions and iPads, she said.
“Yet when I went back to Bamberg to give an anti-bullying speech, they didn’t even have a projector for me to play my video on,” she said. “That’s immoral. There’s something very wrong about the fact that we educate our children based on where they’re born and raised and not on the fact that that’s our future workforce.”
Over the past year, Haley’s administration and a team of bipartisan lawmakers dug into statistics, tax outlays and test scores, she said. They talked to teachers, principals and superintendents to find out what S.C. schools were doing right and what the education system needs.
For example, they found that Lexington County and Bamberg County spend about the same amount per pupil but that Lexington has more flexibility in how the money is spent because it mostly comes from property taxes. Bamberg receives a lot of federal Title 1 money, which must be spent in specific areas.
“We’ve got to change some things,” she said. “You will see me introduce education reform in January that is going to address that. This is not going to be a one-year fix. My guess is it’s going to be an eight- to 10-year run.”
Haley said her reform plan will include improved technology in classrooms, coaches for reading, better professional development for teachers, collaboration with businesses and technical schools, and possibly a dual-education approach in which some students attend a four-year university and others pursue a manufacturing program.
She said that many of the manufacturing jobs coming to South Carolina do not require a university degree but are highly technical, stable, well-paying jobs, and that the state should react in a way that makes a connection between employers and the workforce.
“When we come out with this education platform in January, what I need is support of people saying ‘Yes, we can do this.’ as opposed to saying ‘no, we can’t’ and giving all these reasons why it can’t be done. This is the right time to do it. If we don’t do it now, I don’t know when we’re going to do it.”
Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.