Teachers group demands state lawmakers act to address teacher shortages

Published: Apr. 12, 2022 at 12:01 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 12, 2022 at 4:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s largest educator group gathered outside the State House Tuesday to call on state lawmakers to make easing teacher shortages across the state a priority.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association held its Teacher A.C.T. Day, laying out a three-step process they say would help the state recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, the group wants lawmakers to attract talent, compensate teachers and trust teachers.

Teachers say with only weeks left in the current legislative session, there is no time to waste, insisting it is critical that the General Assembly passes legislation to address the problem in the next month before lawmakers leave Columbia for what could be the rest of the year.

In early March, PSTA released information on a midyear update to a report from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. CERRA had reported in November that the state’s schools began the current year with a record 1,033 vacant teaching positions. But the update found that total increased to 1,121, PSTA said.

“Since the start of the school year until February, 977 teachers left the classroom in South Carolina, and that’s an exceptional statistic because if a teacher leaves the classroom mid-year they can have their teaching license suspended for up to a year,” PSTA Governmental Affairs Director Patrick Kelly said. “So they’re not just leaving their current employment. They are potentially walking away from the profession altogether.”

Members of the Palmetto State Teachers Association are calling for the General Assembly to pass bills in that time that provide unencumbered planning time for many teachers, decrease standardized testing requirements, and offer bonuses to education majors to attract more teachers to the profession.

“I don’t want my rising sixth-grader to have to — for me to have to tell her, ‘Honey, it’s OK. Sixth grade’s going to be rough, but then there’s policies coming that will fix it in seventh grade,’” Kelly said. “I want every year to be excellent, so for the next 30 days — there’s 30 days left in this session — they need to prioritize it.”

Some of these bills have already passed one chamber and await consideration in the other.

The group also says every teacher in the state needs an adequate pay raise – from money in the state budget – which is currently under discussion in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) says there’s no single solution that’ll fix the problem – and that it can’t all be solved this year.

“This is something that we have to recognize is an issue that we have to deal with every year, and we have been,” Massey said. “We’ve had a number of things that were dealt with last year, this year, there’s going to be more than we deal with thereafter. It’s going to continue to be something that we’re going to try to address the problems as they come up.”

The version of the budget the House passed last month would raise the state minimum salary for teachers up to $40,000. The Senate has since bumped that down to $38,000 – which teachers today said was disappointing but still above the current minimum.

The chair of the Senate Education Committee, Greg Hembree, (R-Horry), says they’re still allocating the same amount of money overall to education as the House did. But he argues by setting a lower state-required minimum, they’re giving schools more flexibility to decide how to use their money, which could include teacher raises.

“The reason why we’ve kind of focused on those three things is we believe the largest educational issue in our state right now with so many different things on the plate from student mental health to disrupted learning to school safety to facilities,” Kelly said. “All of those are important, but ultimately the single most important issue to address is our state’s growing teacher shortage.”

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