Summary of recent South Carolina newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

Jan. 13

Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on teacher incentives:

Gov. Nikki Haley's budget proposal released this week targets an area that needs legislative attention: teacher incentives.

A Senate Committee on Public School Teachers appointed this summer also focused on this topic. It took testimony on how the state could:

Encourage more South Carolina college students to become public school teachers.

Keep good teachers in the classroom.

Quickly remove incompetent teachers.

Changes to teacher evaluations are in the works. But the Senate committee looked at more positive ways to address a growing problem, especially in poor, rural school districts.

Haley's proposed budget would subsidize college tuition to make the teaching profession more inviting for students. It also would give teachers a financial incentive to stay on the job longer, and get them into areas of the state that desperately need good teachers.

Haley's budget also would fund recruitment and training of veteran teachers to act as mentors to younger teachers in selected districts. Mentors could add a $5,000 salary stipend for five years.

South Carolina has long had tuition-forgiveness programs for teachers, but new ways of doing it are now on the table.

Haley wants the state's Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement to work with the state Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education and the Education Oversight Committee to develop five incentives to improve teacher quality and recruitment to rural schools.

Financial incentives are the best way to do it.

Look at the carrots dangled before the two coaches in Monday night's college national championship football game.

Oregon's Mark Helfrich got $150,000 for making the title game (and would have gotten another $250,000 if his team had won). He got another $410,000 in other incentives for team achievements.

Ohio State's Urban Meyer got $250,000 for making the championship game. For winning the Big Ten, he got $100,000 and an automatic one-year extension on a contract that pays him more than $4 million per year.

Yes, incentives work. And public school educators need to be higher up the ladder in that game if we are to have great teachers and principals.

South Carolina's minimum pay for first-year teachers is $29,500 (though districts can add to that).

Meanwhile, South Carolina ranks 10th highest nationwide in college debt, which the Associated Press reports averages nearly $30,000 for students coming out with a four-year degree.

South Carolina's colleges produce about 2,000 education majors per year, but the state has 4,000 openings annually.

Beyond that, the profession has heavy turnover, especially in the first years of teaching. Annual turnover tops 20 percent in six rural school districts.

Money won't solve everything, but it's a good place to start. Just ask the Ohio State Buckeyes.



Jan. 14

Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on fixing DSS:

Key state lawmakers have promised long-needed reform at the Department of Social Services. And Gov. Nikki Haley is finally on board about the Cabinet agency's serious need for more money.

A full course correction can't happen too soon for the beleaguered agency.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, said last week that DSS reform should be a top priority for the General Assembly this session. Among other things, DSS needs 200 new positions filled.

Gov. Haley has included funding in her budget proposal, released Monday, for the necessary DSS employees.

But while Sen. Tom Alexander, R-Oconee, chairman of the Senate Finance/Health and Human Services Subcommittee, agreed DSS needs attention, he cautioned that full reform might not happen in one year.

The stories of children who have died while under DSS supervision should give every legislator the necessary incentive to get the department as much help as quickly as possible.

And then there are the devastating cases of children under the care of DSS going without basic health care and being moved from one foster home to another to another, some where they are harmed physically, psychologically and emotionally.

There is a critical shortage of foster homes, meaning that children are placed in institutions instead. Children 12 years old and under are institutionalized in South Carolina at a rate higher than in any other state in the nation. And complaints about maltreatment have gone uninvestigated.

National advocacy organization Children's Rights, the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center and Matthew T. Richardson, partner at the South Carolina law firm Wyche P.A., along with 11 named children from age 2 to 17 who are under DSS supervision, have filed a lawsuit against the governor and the acting director of DSS, asserting these unacceptable inadequacies.

Sen. Lourie doesn't need convincing. He chairs the Senate panel that oversees DSS. He spoke about DSS with media representatives from across the state at a legislative workshop in Columbia last Thursday.

The committee's struggle last year to obtain accurate data from DSS regarding caseloads borne by DSS workers raised a red flag. Ultimately it was revealed that 58 percent of workers had caseloads exceeding state standards.

Since then, some of the most critical changes have been made. The director resigned and an assistant is serving as acting director. Additional caseworkers have been hired.

The curious — and devastating — thing, according to Sen. Lourie, is that despite the obvious need, DSS failed to ask for additional caseworkers. DSS reform must address a flawed protocol that leaves such an important issue unaddressed.

It is seldom a popular thing to increase government spending.

But with the very lives of South Carolina's most vulnerable children at stake, it's a lot more costly to continue underfunding DSS.



Jan. 14

The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina, on MADD:

MADD is using new numbers to begin making the case that South Carolina's drunk-driving laws need further strengthening.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving South Carolina is citing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers for 2013. The NHTSA says South Carolina had 335 drunk-driving deaths in 2013, 13 fewer than 2012, in a year when traffic deaths in the state were down from 2012 and were fewer than the preliminary numbers from 2014.

BUT the 2013 number pushes the state to No. 1 in the national rankings with the highest percentage of traffic deaths related to DUI. South Carolina's 44 percent in 2013 compares to the national average of 31 percent.

"Improvements aren't being made fast enough, and it's a shame that we lead the nation in such devastating circumstances," MADD South Carolina Program Director Steven Burritt said. "It forces us to ask ourselves as a state once again whether we're doing everything we know we should to drive these numbers down. We know the answer is that we're not."

MADD was hoping to see greater declines in drunk deaths for the state, considering that overall traffic deaths dropped 11 percent from 863 in 2012 to 767 to 2013. However, drunk driving deaths dropped by only 4 percent.

Nationally, drunk driving deaths once again topped 10,000 in 2013, though they dropped from 10,322 in 2012 to 10,076 in 2013.

MADD is several years into its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which outlines steps to end drunk-driving deaths. The campaign calls for more high-visibility law enforcement through sobriety checkpoints, all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device and the development of advanced vehicle technology, like the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), which one day could eliminate drunk driving completely.

South Carolina had a victory in its efforts to embrace the campaign in 2014 when Emma's Law went into effect on Oct. 1. Emma's Law expands the use of ignition interlock devices to first-time offenders with a high BAC, but that is not the full measure recommended by the campaign. As noted, MADD wants all convicted drunk drivers to be required to use the interlock devices.

"Emma's Law is going to help with these numbers going forward, for sure," Burritt said. "But we did not go as far as 24 states have done to require these devices for every DUI offender, so we can't expect the kind of massive drops those states had. Also, Emma's Law can only meet expectations if those who should be convicted of drunk driving actually are. We know this isn't happening."

In 2015, MADD South Carolina will be joining with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and others to attempt to make changes to the state's law regarding videotaping of DUI arrests. Local accounts indicate a rising trend of cases being thrown out over minor flaws in the videotape recording, sometimes for reasons out of officers' control.

"When clearly impaired individuals are having their charges thrown out because someone stumbles out of the frame briefly or half a body part is cut off on the recording, we're not keeping the public safe from drunk driving like we should," Burritt said. "These are roadside dash cam recordings, usually at night. They are not travelling TV studios. We've got to bring back some sanity to this process."

Celebrating its 35h anniversary, MADD is a strong voice and has considerable clout with legislators. It now has another No. 1 ranking that South Carolina does not want as ammunition to push ahead for further legal reforms in South Carolina - a move that may not have been as a high a priority for MADD considering the recent inaction of Emma's Law.

But with the full plate of issues facing South Carolina's General Assembly in 2014, don't be surprised if lawmakers keep the MADD agenda on hold until there are numbers to indicate the impact of at least a full year of Emma's Law.


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