I am eagerly looking forward to phase two of the 2021-2022 General Assembly starting Jan. 11.

Over the past 12 months I have been enjoying my new role within the Labor, Commerce and Industry Standing Committee as well as the Regulations and Admin Procedures Standing Committee. Both are significant for stimulating the future economic health of South Carolina – especially as we seek to attract new business to our state.

Nonetheless, two major issues stand in our way: 

1. The quality of our state’s education system.

2. Our tax structure compared with our neighbors.

Overall, I expect this coming spring will be highly significant for our state as we wrap up several landmark pieces of legislation aimed at education reform, from pre-school to beyond high school.

I believe the new legislative initiatives approaching final approval will become the foundation blocks for rejuvenating our education system. And the initiatives will serve as a spark to ignite a far more robust and balanced statewide economy.

The bill that started moving through our House last March is a massive, 84-pager (H.3883). It promises to transform nearly every level of our school landscape, both public and private.

This bill considers the issue of education reform as both a social and economic imperative. It ties together education and economic development – which is something business leaders have long been advocating as a way to replenish South Carolina’s shortage of skilled workers.

We have set a goal of having 60% of state students get a post-secondary degree or industry credential over the next decade.

One aspect of the bill I’m especially partial to is toughening up the “Read to Succeed” program, which has been largely ignored for years as parents prevail on schools to pass their children on to the next grade level despite their failure to pass minimal standards.

Candidly, I don’t think students should be allowed to pass a grade just because they are a certain age and their parents want them to, unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances. I firmly believe students should be able to exemplify grade level subject matter competency across the curriculum prior to advancing from one grade to the next.

As appealing as our state is to retirees in terms of the environment and climate, we continue to drag behind our neighboring states when it comes to an attractive tax structure. Our personal income tax levels and property taxes have been higher than other neighboring Southeastern states for a while.

Our top income tax rate of 7% is now higher than North Carolina, which for several years had been higher. This year they dropped their rate to 3.99%.

As one of my House colleagues from Aiken, Rep. Bill Taylor, recently said: “With two-thirds of the South Carolina House and Senate now controlled by Republicans, there is no reason we can’t pass significant tax reform yet this year.”

I agree.

Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.