Educators worry education reform could take back burner to Santee Cooper talks

VIDEO: Educators worry education reform could take back burner to Santee Cooper talks

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Some educators say education overhaul efforts have slowed as state lawmakers try to figure out what to do with Santee Cooper.

Lawmakers spent the majority of their time last week in hearings listening to bids to purchase or manage the state-owned utility. They say education reform and Santee Cooper are two of the biggest issues they'll face this year, and they are now tackling both at the same time.

Senators voted down a measure last week to limit debate on the education reform bill.

"We've been on S.419 for over five weeks," Republican Sen. Harvey Peeler said. "This calendar is clogged."

Lawmakers have taken up more than 100 amendments on the Senate floor and debated the bill for weeks. It remains on special order, but things slowed down last week as state senators shifted their focus from education to Santee Cooper.

The Senate Finance Committee held days-long meetings going over the report from the Department of Administration detailing the three bids for the utility: One from Next-Era Energy to buy Santee Cooper, a second from Dominion Energy to manage the utility, and a third from Santee Cooper to reform itself.

"With the Santee Cooper report coming out and a timeline the General Assembly has had to act on that," Palmetto State Teachers Association Executive Director Kathy Maness said. "It has kind of thrown a wrench in whether or not this bill will pass or not. At this point, I do not know."

Santee Cooper recommendations are expected to be sent to the Senate floor by mid-March. Education groups like the Palmetto State Teachers Associatoin hope education doesn't get placed on the back burner.

"There are a couple good amendments there that we think will help teachers," Maness said. "We got more amendments that should be coming. We'll see what happens with the education reform bill."

The Senate Finance Committee is set to listen to public testimony from Santee Cooper Tuesday and Wednesday.

Senators are expected to continue to take up amendments for the education bill this week.

The House Budget Committee is scheduled to meet with Next Era and Dominion this week as well.

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