South Carolina State of the State Address 2000
By Stateline Staff
COLUMBIA, South Carolina - Jan. 19 - Following is the full text of Gov. Jim Hodges' 2000 State of the State Address:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen of the General Assembly, distinguished guests and my fellow South Carolinians.
The last year of the 20th Century was one for the record books in South Carolina - record business investment in our state, record investments in our schools, record storms and floods along our coast, a nearly perfect record for the College of Charleston basketball team and, sadly, a perfect record for my beloved Gamecocks in football.
But for all the ups and downs in 1999, a clear picture emerges -- a newer, stronger South Carolina - attacking long-standing problems with aggressive initiatives in education, health care, economic development and public safety.
Tonight, I want to review our record of progress and propose initiatives to challenge, inspire and lead us into a new century. I have no doubt the vision of South Carolina's future looks just a little different to each of us.
Some South Carolina families have lived here for generations. Others are just now unpacking. Some love our beaches, some love our mountains. Some are parents who want more opportunity for our children. Some are seniors hoping for independence that lasts for all their years. Each of us brings a different set of experiences, hopes, and dreams to our lives.
But we're all South Carolinians. Our collective future is most complete when viewed as a whole. We all have hopes for our state. We see a better path ahead for it, and for our people. We may choose different routes from time to time, but I believe we seek the same destination -- a peaceful, prosperous and productive home for us, our children and their children. Last year, I called upon you to join me in a children's crusade -- a crusade to put our children first. A crusade to make education our top priority. Working together, we've taken some giant steps toward that goal.
We devoted $1 billion to build new schools in every community in our state -- without raising taxes. We dramatically improved preschool education by launching First Steps, with a goal of ensuring every child starts school healthy and ready to learn. We asked parents to take an active role in their children's education by signing our "Compact with Our Children," and more than 100,000 parents responded. That's right, more than 100,000.
We improved discipline and safety in the schools by creating alternative schools and putting school safety officers in every high school in South Carolina. And we've raised teacher pay to an even higher level above the Southeastern norm.
I'd say that's a report card with a straight A average. Because of our efforts, South Carolina is a better place than it was one year ago tonight.
But we cannot retrench or retreat. Whether you're here on the floor of the General Assembly or at home in your living room, I am calling on all of you to build on this record of success. This is no time to back off our commitment to higher standards and greater resources for education.
We can't afford anything less than our complete commitment to improving education for all South Carolinians. Our children's crusade for education is on the march. Our challenge now is to pick up the pace. Here are my goals for education this year.
First, every child deserves a quality teacher. You know the teachers I mean. Teachers who know their stuff -- who know how to inspire students to be their best and set a good example every day. Educators like that teach right now in South Carolina and some of them are with us tonight. Please join me in recognizing five of South Carolina's best -- five of the 34 teachers in our state who have achieved our country's highest standard for teaching excellence, national certification.
These teachers have spent up to 180 hours assembling a teaching portfolio of their lesson plans and teaching methods. They've submitted those methods to critical review by some of the best teachers in the nation. They've survived rigorous testing to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter they teach. One of these five, Kathy Schwalbe, says the certification process made her ask, "Am I giving my students my best?"
Today, Kathy can answer that with a confident, "yes." She's more comfortable and even more competent in the classroom. And her students are better for it. We need more teachers like Kathy. We need more messengers of educational excellence to spread the gospel of commitment and dedication that's lifted them to the highest standards in their profession.
Let's set an ambitious goal -- by the year 2002 -- at least 500 nationally certified teachers in South Carolina. If we ask teachers to commit to this rigorous course of improvement, we must provide incentives. Right now, teachers sacrifice their own time and own money to earn national certification. I propose we remove the financial barrier to certification by loaning our teachers the $2,000 dollars they need to begin the process, and then forgive that loan if a teacher successfully completes the rigorous training.
Our state should also reward outstanding achievement in teaching with performance bonuses. I propose we award a $25,000 bonus for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year, a $10,000 bonus for each of the four teachers on the South Carolina Honor Roll, and a $1,000 bonus for each district teacher of the year
We need better trained teachers and we need more of them. And we need strong role models for our students. People are trying to help, and we should help them. One of them is here tonight -- Jeff Davis.
You may recognize Jeff. He's the former Clemson standout who played on the Tigers' 1981 National Championship team and then went on to a great career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jeff didn't always have heroic role models. As a child, he remembers the futile search for someone to look up to at school. He says young men who don't find these role models may not see the value of education. Today, Jeff's the captain of his most important effort -- recruiting African-American men to become teachers through a program titled "Call Me Mister."
Jeff's made me a believer. He wants to help us win another national championship, this time in the classroom. That's why I have asked for more than $1 million for teacher recruitment to fund "Call Me Mister" and programs like it throughout South Carolina. We must redouble our efforts to recruit the best and brightest classroom leaders - a diverse group of teachers who can serve as role models for all children.
We are asking a lot more of our teachers. But in the classroom, teachers are only part of the equation. Obviously, students in our schools should develop good minds. To me, it's equally obvious they should develop good values. Parents make the first -- and best -- teachers when it comes to values. Children must learn right from wrong in their own homes and in their places of worship. But the need to learn right from wrong shouldn't stop when a child enters the classroom.
Schools can't teach character all by themselves. But schools should reinforce the lessons of right and wrong that children learn at home. I propose that every South Carolina school develop a character education program focusing on those character traits a civilized society values. Traits like good citizenship, respect, honesty and integrity.
That's why my proposed budget includes funds to train teachers in ways to introduce character education in the classroom. In addition, specific funds are earmarked for grants to school districts to offset the cost of developing a character education program. And that's why I think it's time to require students to respect their teachers. In every school, our students must use words that show that respect. I'm talking about ma'am, sir, Mr. and Mrs.
What's the value of character education? Ask someone like Joanne Skillman, assistant principal at East Aiken Elementary. Joanne says her students now challenge each other to be more virtuous and honest. Learning the meaning of these character traits is helping East Aiken students live by them. Representative Todd Rutherford knows the wisdom of this practice and has agreed to sponsor my character education program.
These initiatives aren't expensive. In fact, teaching good manners and a respectful attitude cost next to nothing, but the benefits of a more courteous and more civilized society are priceless.
As I look back on what we've accomplished during the past year, nothing makes me more proud than the great strides we've taken in preschool education.
We launched First Steps, our preschool readiness program, with a $20 million dollar appropriation from the General Assembly. The private sector knows a good investment when it sees it and is chipping in $5 million more.
There is a hunger across our state for First Steps. Entire communities are working together to find out what children need to be ready for school and then create initiatives to meet these needs. They're excited just to have the chance. In tiny Allendale County alone, more than 150 people jammed into a First Steps organizational meeting. That response has been repeated in county after county. First Steps is making a difference.
Two years ago, Clarendon County -- and much of the rest of South Carolina -- was falling further behind when it came to preparing our children for school. That's why we needed bold new initiatives from state government to turn these numbers around.
Tonight, I can report to you initiatives we began a year ago are taking hold. In our gallery is a group of Clarendon County preschoolers. These kids are among the first in our state to benefit from First Steps. When they complete the first grade, these kids won't become another bottom-of-the-ranks statistic. Instead, they'll be on a path to success.
I'm so proud of these kids - I can't wait to see their progress. We can't risk any child's chance to follow that same path. And I, for one, don't intend to. That's why I am asking for an additional $10 million for First Steps -- enough to fund initiatives in all 46 counties throughout South Carolina.
I also want the First Steps Board of Trustees, in conjunction with my office, to take a comprehensive look at child care in South Carolina. There are at least 140,000 children in child care in South Carolina. And that's just the ones we know about, getting licensed care. The need for quality child care is clear. We've got to ensure that while these children are away from their moms and dads, they're getting the best possible foundation to start school.
Each of the programs I've mentioned is designed to raise the abilities of our children. I assure you that each also emphasizes accountability to guarantee these programs achieve the desired results. That's why I am devoting more than $23 million in my budget to meet the Education Accountability Act standards. These funds pay for report cards on school performance and summer school or remediation for kids who need it. They also provide principal and teacher specialists to aid impaired schools and help at-risk districts before they become impaired.
Improving education takes more than programs and money. It takes a personal commitment from each one of us. That's why my wife Rachel and I choose to promote reading. I've met so many of our young students as they come through my office for a weekly reading session. Often, it's this book, a favorite of my sons', "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble." It's sometimes hard to believe there's any five-year-old left who hasn't heard me read this book. But we know there are too many young people who aren't exposed every day to the joy of reading.
That means young children missing out on time with a parent or other role model. That means older children deprived of exercise of the imagination that only the written word can provide. That's why I created the Governor's Institute of Reading and held a statewide summit to promote the best reading practices.
My wife's program, "Reading with Rachel," has visited more than 40 classrooms, held nearly 10 events at the Governor's Mansion, and is donating more than 200 new books every month to students, libraries and schools.
In last year's State of the State, I challenged students to get a library card -- and use it. This year, let's create a whole new goal. I challenge every student in kindergarten through 12th grade to read at least 20 books this year. Those who do will be named members of my "Governor's Reading Honor Roll." Kids, a good book can open the mind to ideas and take you places no video game ever will.
So far, I've focused on what we can do to make our public schools better. But the real payoff for many of our children comes only if they can complete a college education. Paying for college is one of the biggest challenges families face. In many cases, it means going deep into debt, or not going to college at all. Did you know that it costs almost $50,000 to put a child through the University of South Carolina today?
My oldest son, Luke, is six years old. By the time Luke's ready for college, experts estimate that figure will be more like $115,000. By graduation day today, the average student with loans is $20,000 dollars in debt. That's not right. Every family in South Carolina deserves the chance to send their children to college. Every graduate deserves to be free from constant worry over debt.
Let's put a face on these statistics. Meet Patricia and Timothy Delts of Hopkins and their five children. These kids have some high ambitions and they're working hard to reach them. Their mom and dad are working hard on putting money aside to save for those college bills. But by the time their youngest, seven-year-old Georgia, gets her degree, the Delts face 14 straight years of tuition bills and college loans.
It's time we do something to relieve the crushing financial burden imposed on South Carolina families by the cost of higher education. The time has come for an education lottery in South Carolina.
I have two requirements for a lottery. First, South Carolina must run our lottery like a business. Second, proceeds from the education lottery must fund scholarships for students pursuing higher education and pay for technology in our classrooms. Under my proposal, funds from an education lottery will double the number of state-sponsored scholarships currently available in South Carolina. And let's offer our young people the chance to earn an associate's degree - tuition free. More and more, an associate's degree is the minimum requirement for a good job.
Lottery funds will make higher education more accessible by providing a $2,000 scholarship for anyone earning a B average. Plus, a lottery will improve upon existing LIFE scholarships. If a high school student earns a B and meets the SAT requirement then scholarship money will double from $2,000 to $4,000. The lottery will provide special scholarships to help teachers upgrade their knowledge of the subjects they teach. Finally, the technology we will provide South Carolina students with lottery funds will make us number one in the nation - leading the way - in access to the latest tools for learning.
I spoke earlier of the struggle to pay for college. Supposedly a child's public education in the years leading up to college is free. Any parent knows, like I do, that's a joke. Required school supplies, uniforms, band instruments, field trips -- these are just some of the hidden costs of public education, and that's not taking into account the money needed to feed and clothe an active and growing student. We should do more to help our state's families during this difficult time. That's why I am proposing an annual state-wide sales tax holiday. While all consumers would benefit, families with school-age children would benefit the most from a sales tax break on clothing and back to school items during this three-day weekend each August.
South Carolina has been truly blessed with a booming economy. That's enabled us to return a sizeable portion of this bounty to taxpayers by aggressively cutting taxes. This year's budget includes more than $400 million dollars in ongoing property tax relief, in addition to the targeted tax cuts I've proposed. But the Bible cautions us to use the surplus gained in years of plenty to prepare for years of want. The best way to prepare for the future is to invest in education today.
Last year, the state devoted $750 million to local school construction. That saves homeowners and car owners $750 million dollars they'd otherwise be paying in taxes to build new schools. While improving public education in South Carolina may be our biggest challenge in the year ahead, it is not our only concern.
Even in these great economic times, some South Carolinians have trouble making ends meet - particularly our seniors. This was highlighted in a series of "Seniors Speak Out" forums held across South Carolina. I want to commend Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter for proposing these forums, where some seniors say the state truly heard their concerns for the first time.
Just two weeks ago, I met a remarkable lady -- LaVonne Cain. Her story is enough to bring tears to your eyes. LaVonne recently had to sacrifice independence to ensure her health. The rising cost of her prescription medicine put such a burden on LaVonne's budget, she was forced to give up her car. LaVonne said it made her feel like she'd lost part of her life.
LaVonne Cain is a symbol of all the seniors who have worked hard and paid taxes all their lives without asking much from government. LaVonne told me that senior citizens have much to offer. They've lived through the hardships of life and have lots of experience to be productive. Her simple question to me was, "Won't you please help us to help ourselves?" LaVonne -- we're going to help.
I propose we implement a Seniors Drug Program in South Carolina. This program will provide relief, both financially and medically, to 125,000 seniors throughout South Carolina. We must explore other avenues for improving the lives of seniors as well. That includes tax credits for seniors purchasing long-term care insurance proposed by Senator Glenn McConnell and Representative Jimmy Bales. And I want $4.5 million devoted to home health care services so seniors can be with their families where they belong.
We've funded much of our seniors program through our Healthy South Carolina 2000 Trust. In fact, 60 percent of South Carolina's share in the tobacco settlement goes to these health priorities. But seniors aren't the only ones to benefit.
Healthy South Carolina 2000 will pay for early childhood health screenings to detect children with hearing problems or exposure to lead. And let's spend money from the tobacco settlement for youth smoking prevention. We've got to stop kids from starting to smoke, and take the cigarettes out of the hands of kids who already do.
A short time ago, some publicly doubted that job and industry recruitment were a priority in this administration. They were wrong. Last week, I traveled around South Carolina to announce our first "Six Billion Dollar Year." This $6 billion in new investment came from international giants like Michelin and home-grown enterprises like the bio-tech firm Southern Sun.
We set records for rural investment, and for total investment in a single day. These are remarkable achievements. But in celebrating these important economic milestones, we shouldn't forget about areas of our state in economic need. That's why I propose using another 20 percent of the tobacco settlement for an Economic Development Trust. These funds will help pay for a variety of initiatives to aid our tobacco communities and underdeveloped areas of the state.
Another 20 percent of the tobacco settlement can help revitalize and diversify the economies of tobacco farming communities by reimbursing tobacco producers and quota holders for their production losses. We've got to stand by our tobacco farmers in their time of need. Our neighboring tobacco states are taking steps to stabilize their farming communities. It's time we did the same.
In addition to our farmers, there is another group of workers in our state who deserve economic incentives -- our hard-working state employees. I value our state employees. I've proposed a comprehensive approach to recognizing their service. My budget includes a 3 percent pay raise for employees earning less than $30,000 a year, 2 percent for those earning $30,000 and above. Also included are 28-year-retirement, a restructured health insurance plan and matching funds for the state 401K.
I mentioned earlier that South Carolina faced its share of devastating storms during the past year. We can be thankful that the majority of our residents along the coast were spared the worst of the destruction from Hurricane Floyd.
My heart goes out to the families in an around Horry County whose homes were flooded - families like Beth and Billy Wayne Gore. When I saw the Gores in September they were salvaging the furniture in their home.
Senator Luke Rankin and Representative Billy Witherspoon joined me in helping the Gores haul their belongings out of the neighborhood in a john boat. The Gores are just now moving from temporary housing into a new home.
Hurricane Floyd taught us some valuable lessons. First, the communications network among traffic control agencies doesn't work. And our citizens can't get the latest information on evacuation routes and procedures. I propose we expand and link law enforcement radio systems so different agencies can share the latest information.
Let's update our public information systems. I propose we broadcast AM radio alerts and put up roadside message boards to keep drivers informed.
The second lesson learned -- in emergencies we need a streamlined chain of command. The Emergency Preparedness Division must be moved under my control. Next time, the evacuation of our coast will move swiftly, smoothy and safely.
I'm happy to say there's one storm we didn't have to weather and that's because it never came. Our preparation paid off and the Y2K bug was dead on arrival. But changing technology is now a constant in life. And we have to change with it. We need the newest technology across state government if we're going to provide the efficient services citizens deserve.
That's why I'm calling for a new chief technology officer to ensure that government is more accessible and responsive to its citizens. This new technology secretary will ensure that government bridges the information gulf that often frustrates cooperation between different parts of government. The office will coordinate public/private partnerships to enhance business development and take high-speed internet access statewide. We must ensure that South Carolina is wired and ready in the 21st Century.
Our citizens can testify that outmoded technology doesn't get the job done. Just ask anyone in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles. I know this first-hand. For a short time last year, I was the face behind the counter at the Division of Motor Vehicles. For several days, I worked at different DMV locations to get a feel for the service South Carolinians get. We need to do better at the DMV. We've made a start. The DMV's Project Phoenix combines state-of-the-art computer technology with a customer-oriented approach to improve service. Let's continue to fund Project Phoenix so that by next year, South Carolinians will spend less time in line and more time enjoying the open road.
Let me turn to the issue of public safety. We're tough on crime in South Carolina. But when it comes to fighting the crime of domestic violence - we've got to intensify our efforts.
South Carolina ranks third in the nation for deaths of women at the hands of their abusers. While the overall homicide rate in South Carolina has decreased, domestic violence homicides have gone up. South Carolina needs a coordinated effort to put an end to this horrible crime. That's why I am creating a Task Force on Domestic Violence. This group will be charged with developing a plan to help prevent this crime, provide for the safety of victims, and punish offenders with swift and sure justice.
As I mentioned earlier, we are keeping our promise to put South Carolina schools first. There is another promise worth keeping -- South Carolina must control its own environmental destiny at the Barnwell landfill. My bipartisan task force, chaired by former Congressman Butler Derrick, recommends a solution that meets South Carolina's environmental needs. The task force unanimously suggests that we join the Atlantic Compact. We can reduce the overall volume and total radioactivity of waste at the Barnwell disposal facility and free up space for the decommissioning of our own nuclear plants in the future. I urge this General Assembly to petition for membership in the Atlantic Compact -- South Carolina must no longer be the nation's nuclear dumping ground.
Finally tonight, I believe that each of us must accept the challenge to open our hearts to reconciliation. There are some steps long overdue for our state that we must take now. State government must finally recognize that the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deserve recognition in the form of an official state holiday. All of our sister states recognize this day and so do numerous cities, counties and school districts right here in South Carolina. We must take this step now because it is simply the right thing to do.
There is a separate issue we also need to address. The Confederate flag that flies above this State House is hardening the hearts of some of our fellow South Carolinians. On both sides, voices have been raised, tempers have flared and many have been tempted to dig in their heels. Let me tell you what I believe. Sanctions or no sanctions, we must move ahead and find a resolution to this debate. Sanctions can no longer keep us from doing what's right.
The majority of South Carolinians understand that we have two sovereign flags that represent all of us -- the United States flag and the state flag with the Palmetto tree and crescent. In its current location on the State House dome, the Confederate flag claims an inappropriate position of sovereignty.
Let's resolve this issue. And let's resolve it now. We must move the flag from the dome to a place of historical significance on the State House grounds. The debate over the Confederate flag has claimed too much of our time and energy -- energy that can be put to better use building schools, improving health care and recruiting jobs. A divisive debate over the Confederate flag can't build one school or buy one textbook -- but an honorable solution will teach our children a valuable lesson about resolving our differences in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
The entire nation is watching and listening to us. Most importantly, South Carolina's children are watching and listening to us. As we work to resolve this issue, let us be sure that the lesson we leave to the next generation is that we learn more by listening than by talking. Let us be sure our children learn that problems can be resolved only when we have mutual respect for people with opposing backgrounds and views.
Yes, let us reach agreement this year to move the flag. Let us do it in a way that will teach our children well the right and proper way to resolve differences.
Members of the General Assembly, tonight I have told you about the State of Our State as it currently stands - on the brink of a bright future. I challenge you to join me in our progress toward a new South Carolina for this new century.
A South Carolina no longer troubled by long-running conflicts over the Confederate flag.
A South Carolina where the children of Clarendon, and every county can begin the first grade healthy and ready to learn.
A South Carolina with enough highly qualified teachers to prepare our students for the rigors and rewards of higher education. And a South Carolina where seniors like LaVonne Cain can grow old with dignity and independence.
Whatever experiences each of us brings here tonight, I believe our hopes and dreams for South Carolina look a lot alike. We all want a new and better South Carolina. The people of South Carolina are looking to us to make that happen.
Now, let's get to work.