South Carolina is losing thousands of public school teachers a year but one popular solution — higher pay — is unlikely to solve that problem by itself, an Upstate legislator said Tuesday.
S.C. teachers on average make $48,769 — about $800 a year less, on average, than teachers across the Southeast. That low pay is one of the reasons that 6,500 S.C. teachers left their positions last year.
The S.C. Department of Education and teachers’ groups are asking state legislators for more money in the state’s budget next year to increase the starting pay and salaries of teachers.
Among its 2019 budget requests, the Education Department wants to raise the starting salary of new teachers with a bachelor’s degree to $32,000. Now, those teachers make about $30,000.
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Groups also want to see the state remove a $10,000 salary cap for teachers who retire but remain in the classroom and provide pay hikes for teachers with more than 24 years of experience, where those raises now end.
Three S.C. senators combed over dozens of recommendations Tuesday. Those senators hope to send a proposal to the full Senate after the Legislature reconvenes in January.
The panel is also charged with dealing with inequities between the state’s poor and affluent school districts that the S.C. Supreme Court ordered the state to address.
For the state’s most rural, poor districts, pay is not the only need the Legislature needs to address, said state Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg.
“The problem is that the kind of young people we want in our schools, they aren’t going to work in an environment that’s essentially an assembly line in which they’re evaluated based on factors where they have no control,” Martin said, referring to the standardized test results that teachers are judged on.
Martin said higher pay is a popular proposed solution.
Another was the Teacher Employee Retirement Incentive program, or TERI, once thought to be a “silver bullet” for the state’s teacher shortage, he said. However, that program ends next June 30, potentially creating a mass exodus of thousands of teachers.
“We’ve governed education the same way for a generation or more, and it’s not working,” Martin said. “Whether it’s the funding formulas, or the teaching programs or the assessment regimes, we have a flawed system. That’s not an indictment on our teachers, it’s an indictment on us and the laws that we’ve put in place.”
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, who chairs the panel, said teacher pay and the teacher shortage clearly are worrying educators, students and parents.
“There’s a teacher shortage for several reasons, and one of those reasons is they are not high-paying jobs,” he said. “If you want to get people into a profession, the sure known capitalist market USA way is to pay them more money.”
What S.C. education groups want
South Carolina is losing thousands of teachers each year as workload demands increase and salaries stagnate. Education groups say S.C. is not competitive with other states in the Southeast. Their proposed solutions include:
$32,000: Increasing the starting salary of bachelor’s degree-level teachers
$10,000: Removing the salary cap for teachers who retire but remain in the classroom
$3,000: Paying extra to teachers in school districts with an 80 percent or higher poverty rate
Loans: Forgiving student loans for teachers in rural areas
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Education