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Proposals at State House aimed to attract teachers to profession, keep them in classrooms

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 6:18 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 29, 2022 at 5:25 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina lawmakers are in control of an unprecedented amount of money this legislative session, and some of them want to prioritize these dollars for education.

It comes as the state’s teacher shortage is worsening, with more than 1,000 teaching jobs unfilled at the start of this school year, a 52% increase from the number of opening teaching jobs at the start of the 2020-2021 school year and an 88% increase from the 2019-2020 year.

This week, two proposals were introduced at the State House to try to address that growing issue.

The first, H.3796, a bill sponsored by Rep. Rita Allison, R – Spartanburg, with bipartisan backing, would give South Carolina college students who major in education a $7,500 bonus upon graduation.

To be eligible, they need to have been a LIFE Scholarship recipient, having met certain academic qualifications while they were in high school.

Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said during a subcommittee meeting Thursday this would “absolutely move the needle” as schools across the state grapple with a growing number of vacant positions.

“Anything we are looking at this session — whether it’s curriculum, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s student safety — until we can fix the teacher shortage, we can’t fully get our arms around those other problems, and this bill is part of a larger, comprehensive policy step that could be taken to enhance educator recruitment and retention,” Kelly said.

The PSTA supports the bill, Kelly said, because it would both encourage more students while they are in high school to enter the teaching profession after college and would help many of them with student loan debt for which they would be responsible after graduating.

Kelly added a similar Senate bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield, could potentially prevent those students from incurring some of that debt in the first place, as that bill would call for a similar stipend to be given to students each year while they are in college.

The state’s Commission on Higher Education asked about expanding the eligibility requirements, including limiting these awards to graduates who stay teaching in South Carolina instead of moving to other states.

Lawmakers on the subcommittee said they wanted to look into that and potentially amend the bill to add those qualifications, and they did not vote Thursday on whether to advance the bill.

“We do want to make sure we’re protecting our teachers here because that’s what we’re here for, is to make sure South Carolina is getting educated the best way possible and not — nothing against Georgia, nothing against North Carolina — but they have their own legislatures that can handle their states,” Rep. Case Brittain, R – Horry, said.

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s superintendent of education wants starting and veteran teachers to make more money.

This week, Superintendent Molly Spearman formally requested lawmakers allocate $162 million in the state budget to give public school teachers a raise of about 2%.

“When you do make this investment, the taxpayers hear what this investment is going to be for teachers and teachers hear what their raise is going to be, I think that those teachers ought to get that and the districts should provide it to them,” Spearman said. “So I’d appreciate whatever you can do for our teachers, and I know you will.”

Gov. Henry McMaster has requested lawmakers set aside money to raise the starting teacher salary minimum by $2,000, from $36,000 to $38,000. This would not affect every early-career teacher, as some districts have set their starting salaries to be higher than the state minimum.

Spearman said she believe the state minimum should be increased even more to $40,000.

“While none of this — neither my request here nor the governor’s request — I believe goes far enough, we try to be reasonable,” Spearman said. “I hope with the additional funding you have you will do even more. They certainly deserve it.”

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