‘We need you’: Horry County teachers seek local help in fighting education overhaul bills

To say Cori Shuford is not a fan of a House proposal to overhaul South Carolina’s K-12 schools would be a major understatement.

“There’s is so much wrong with this bill it’s hard to name them all,” the Carolina Forest Elementary School kindergarten teacher said Saturday while hosting a rally against the legislation at Handley’s Pub & Grub in Carolina Forest.

Shuford and Kendra Pennington, Horry County’s members for SCforED, a state teacher advocacy group that was started last summer, sent out emails and social media invitations in hopes of having teachers and community members attend to learn more about proposed bills that have many teachers in South Carolina up in arms.

The event began at 4 p.m., and by 4:20 p.m., there were approximately 10 people, mostly teachers, who showed up for the event, which Shuford and Pennington described as laid-back and casual as no speeches nor formalities were planned.

“I think that a lot of people are scared to come forward, and we want to let them know that there are ways they can help us without being on the front lines,” Pennington, an Aynor High alum and Myrtle Beach Middle School special education teacher, said while explaining the intentions of such an event.

“We also want to tell teachers how they can get teachers and community members involved. You don’t have to be a teacher to be part of this organization. As long as you support public education, we need you.”

SCforED is calling for a 10-percent raise, something the current bills — proposed by House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and Senate Education Committee chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry — do not include. Rather, proposals include raising starting teacher salaries from $32,000 to $35,000 while leaving all others at the status quo.

Area teachers and advocates attended a rally Saturday at Handley’s in Pub & Grub in Carolina Forest that was centered around stopping a bill proposed by state legislators. Flyers were handed out at the event. David Wetzel

Pennington said a 10-percent raise would put South Carolina on par with the Southeast average while adding that a 20-percent bump would put the state on par with the national average. She and Shuford also mentioned that SCforED’s push for a 10-percent raise would be for support staff — such as bus drivers, nurses, etc. — as well as teachers.

“As far as pay goes, we haven’t had a pay increase in — I don’t even know. It’s been a long time,” Shuford said, noting that some teachers are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. “But because of the cost-of-living increase and no pay increase, we actually make less than we did back five, six years ago, and that’s very difficult.”

Pennington said the bill would allow for more noncertified teachers, which would be “a slap in the face to certified teachers,” she said.

Erik Schrader, a Conway High teacher who is part of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, said he showed up to learn more about the proposed bills. One of the things he’d heard that concerned him was the potential government overreach it could entail.

“It was interesting because they said they wanted to reform education … you can tell the agenda that was in that bill,” he said. “They were interested more in kind of trying to transfer responsibility from public to charter, public to private, kind of rearranging the deck chairs a little bit.”

Droves of teachers showed up to rip into the House’s proposed overhaul Tuesday, saying the bill would not help a state teacher shortage. Pennington said she and others went to the State House a couple weeks ago and had a mere 10 or so advocates while other districts were more well represented.

“There should have been hundreds,” she said. “So we think that people aren’t aware that we’re here and what’s going on.”

SCforED has over 21,000 members on Facebook, yet Horry and Georgetown counties make up just about a thousand of that, Pennington said.

“Horry County could be a very big driving force if we were to get more members,” she said

Area teachers and advocates attended a rally Saturday at Handley’s in Pub & Grub in Carolina Forest that was centered around stopping a bill proposed by state legislators. Flyers were handed out at the event. David Wetzel

Shuford mentioned that Georgetown doesn’t have any SCforED representatives and is hoping someone will change that.

“We need the teachers there to know what’s going on so they can help us with this movement and contact their legislators in their area,” she said.

Shuford said she’d like to see reform that includes teacher pay raises, more money for students, less testing and more of a voice when it comes to legislation.

“Come to us. Come read a book to our kids. Come see what we do everyday and then maybe you can start trying to make a decision that affects all of these people with some sort of knowledge,” she said in a plea to legislators.

Lawmakers have cautioned critics that the proposals are merely drafts and that they are in fact listening to those who will be affected most. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has asked legislators to include a 5-percent pay raise in the legislation.

However, that still wouldn’t meet SCforED’s desires and, despite a low turnout for Saturday’s rally, Shuford and Pennington plan to continue their efforts to enlighten Horry and Georgetown residents on what such an education overhaul could mean.

“We’re fighting to get it either a complete makeover or to get it gone because it’s detrimental to public education,” Pennington said.

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David Wetzel serves in both editor and reporter roles for The Sun News. An award-winning journalist, he has reported on all types of news, sports and features stories in over a decade as a member of the staff. Wetzel has won awards for sports column, feature and headline writing.