Work experience outside the classroom could help new teachers earn more in SC

Senators advanced a bill Wednesday, S.305, which would encourage more people with professional experience to take teaching jobs in a related field.
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 8:53 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - As South Carolina tries to get more teachers in the classroom, the state is looking not just toward college graduates but also at people who have work experience outside the classroom.

Senators advanced a bill Wednesday, S.305, which would encourage more people with professional experience to take teaching jobs in a related field.

“This bill has a lot of support,” Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken and the bill’s lead sponsor, said during a Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday. “I’ve gotten a bunch of emails on this bill. The teachers’ association supports the bill.”

Public school teachers in South Carolina have a minimum salary schedule, which is based on education and experience in the classroom.

The bill would allow work experience in a field related to the subject they would be teaching to count toward what they would need to move up the pay scale, as long as they have at least five years’ experience within 10 years of beginning teaching.

“For example, if I previously worked in a science lab and I am entering the profession to be a certified science teacher, if I worked at least five years in that science lab — let’s say I worked six — then I could start at step six on my salary,” Patrick Kelly, a high school teacher in Richland County who also works for the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said.

North Carolina already has this in place, while Georgia and Tennessee don’t, so supporters say it would be an important recruiting tool, especially in South Carolina school districts located along or close to state borders.

But some senators said during Wednesday’s meeting that they are concerned enacting this would upset some veteran teachers, though senators who took testimony on the bill said they had not heard of any teachers with those worries.

“If I were teaching for 20 years and someone’s in the door from the private sector or from another state even, I think that might grind on me as well,” Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry and the chair of the Senate Education Committee, said.

Kelly said while he appreciates those senators are thinking about how this bill could affect teacher retention, he does not share their concerns.

“I’m hearing overwhelmingly from teachers that their primary concern is, we’ve got to do something to reverse this shortage because when we cannot recruit enough talent into the profession, then what we end up with is the teachers who remain in the classroom being overworked,” Kelly said.

The Senate Education Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to advance the bill to the Senate floor for debate, where there will likely be pushes to change how much that related work experience would count toward moving up the teacher pay scale.

If the Senate passes this bill this year, it is likely the House of Representatives would not take it up until next year, with just a month left in the 2023 legislative session.