New task force to focus on how to keep more teachers in SC classrooms

The 17-member Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force held its first meeting in Columbia on Monday.
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 8:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina is facing an ongoing and worsening challenge to recruit and retain teachers, with the number of open jobs statewide at the start of each school year nearly doubling in just the last five years.

Now a new panel is working to figure out how to turn this difficult trend around.

The 17-member Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force held its first meeting in Columbia on Monday. Dr. Barbara Nielsen, who served as South Carolina’s superintendent of education from 1991 to 1999, is chairing the committee, which also includes current teachers, state lawmakers, superintendents, and even a future teacher.

The top three leaders at the State House — Gov. Henry McMaster, Speaker of the House Murrell Smith (R – Sumter), and Senate President Thomas Alexander (R – Oconee) — were all in attendance Monday. By the end of next May, the task force is required to give its recommendations to the three of them.

“This is not the legislature. This is not the teachers. This is not the education associations. This is us working together, trying to find solutions, and that’s what I encourage you to do as we go through this committee is find solutions,” Smith said.

Before the group are reports of statewide teacher shortages that have only grown over the years.

According to the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement’s (CERRA) Annual Educator Supply & Demand Report, the number of unfilled educator jobs has been gradually rising over the last several years before skyrocketing last year.

At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, there were 550 vacancies around the state. By the start of the 2021-22 school year, that number had jumped to 1,063, increasing again to 1,121 by the middle of the school year as more teachers left their classrooms before the year was over.

The data for the current school year is not available yet.

The new task force will examine this issue over the next several months and make recommendations on areas including how to increase recruitment, improve teacher preparation, and enhance working conditions.

In recent years, the state legislature has worked to increase teacher pay, including upping the current statewide starting salary to $40,000 this year.

But many members of the task force echoed Monday that raising pay alone is not the solution, saying factors like expanding affordable housing need to be considered when trying to figure out how to keep more teachers in the classroom.

“We’re going to have to do things that goes beyond salaries, and that’s what I’m hoping that what you do, is you bring us the intangibles, the things that we don’t know over here at the State House because we’re not teachers. We’re not in the education arena,” Smith said.

Task force member Julia Sowell, who is in her senior year as a secondary education major at Clemson University, hopes one area they examine is changing the current perception around teaching to recruit more educators.

“When I chose education, I had people say, ‘Maybe you’re too smart for that. Maybe this is not the path for you,’” Sowell said. “And just trying to change that narrative that education is super important. It, in my opinion, like I said, is the most important profession, especially right now.”