Staffing, school safety among teachers’ top priorities for SC lawmakers next year

When lawmakers return to Columbia at the beginning of next year, they will face urgent pleas to do more to address the state’s worsening teacher shortage.
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 7:33 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 28, 2022 at 8:25 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - When South Carolina lawmakers return to Columbia at the beginning of next year, they will face urgent pleas to do more to address the state’s worsening teacher shortage.

A recent report found South Carolina schools were short more than 1,400 educators at the start of this school year, an unprecedented high.

The state’s largest educator association lists staffing and school safety as its top priorities for action at the State House when the new legislative session begins in January.

“They go hand in hand,” Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said. “In order for students to be successful, they must be safe, and in order to be safe, a big part of the equation is making sure our schools are adequately and fully staffed with high-quality individuals.”

The PSTA recently published its 2023 legislative agenda for lawmakers, which prioritizes recruitment and retention, equality of opportunity, accountability and assessment, comprehensive student support, and high-quality instruction and curriculum.

Kelly said improving working conditions is critical to fill open jobs, citing steps like more regulation on class sizes, expanded benefits like paid family leave, and more resources put toward student mental health services.

They are also asking the legislature to continue to raise teacher pay. Last year, lawmakers upped the statewide starting salary by $4,000, up to $40,000.

Kelly said they would like to see it increased to $50,000 by 2027.

“In this job market, we need to make educator pay more competitive with the private sector,” he said.

Kelly and Sherry East of the South Carolina Education Association lauded legislators’ work to raise the statewide minimum in recent years and to pass legislation earlier this year to guarantee half an hour of unencumbered time daily for many teachers, beginning with the 2023-2024 school year.

East said the two advocacy groups share many of the same priorities in what they are asking lawmakers to address.

“We haven’t done a lot on class size,” she said. “We haven’t looked at testing. We haven’t looked at overburdensome paperwork.”

In the SCEA’s 2023 legislative agenda, they are also asking for teachers to get more flexibility concerning their contracts after they sign them in May for the next school year.

In some cases, East said, breaking contracts results in teachers’ licenses being suspended for a year.

“That’s before you know your teaching assignments, before they have the budget finished, and really you’re signing a blanket statement saying you’ll agree to work for the district for whatever they want to do with you, and then they won’t let you out of the contract,” East said. “Let a teacher give a 30-day notice and get out of her contract.”

East also said some of their priorities are multi-year goals, including a push to reduce the statewide maximum class size by 10 students in the next five years.

The next legislative session begins on Jan. 10.