S.C. teacher groups call for continued pay increases

South Carolina’s two lead teacher advocacy groups say lawmakers need to keep raising educator pay when they return to Columbia in January.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 7:07 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - South Carolina’s two lead teacher advocacy groups say lawmakers need to keep raising educator pay when they return to Columbia in January.

Their calls come as the worsening statewide teacher shortage – continues to affect hundreds of thousands of students and families across South Carolina.

Gov. Henry McMaster and state Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver have both voiced their support for raising the statewide starting salary for teachers – up to $50,000 by 2026.

The groups that advocate for teachers here at the State House – say working toward that is among their priorities for next year.

“We’ve seen states like Tennessee and Arkansas have gotten their minimum pay to $50,000, so the quicker we can get there, the better. But at minimum, we need a $2,500 raise to the statewide minimum salary schedule to keep us on track to reach the goal of the governor by 2026,” said Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

That would bring the starting salary up to $45,000.

But both the Palmetto State Teachers Association and the South Carolina Education Association reiterate – raising pay alone won’t fix this problem.

“Anything and everything that deals with the teacher shortage, to pay, benefits, housing projects,” said Sherry East of the South Carolina Teachers Association.

She says teachers want the Legislature to go beyond raising starting teacher pay.

“Whatever we move it to, we want to see it be equitable across the board to make sure that everybody in the system sees something, including our support staff,” East said.

Kelly points to two bills that the legislature has already advanced – and can pick up when they return.

One bill would empower teachers more in the contract process – and the other aims to get more future teachers in the pipeline by providing scholarship stipend opportunities for college education majors.

“That would come out of lottery dollars, obviously, but we know that’s an important tool to recruit the next generation of talent into the teaching profession,” Kelly said.

East says they also want to see more done to bolster student mental health services.

While Kelly says strengthening school safety – is their other top focus for next year.

“We need to make sure that every student in South Carolina has access to a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, and doing so would enhance safety so students can focus on their academic growth and potential,” Kelly said.

A few months ago, a statewide task force released its recommendations for addressing the teacher shortage – which Weaver called a “roadmap” for South Carolina.

This upcoming legislative session will be the first opportunity lawmakers will have to act on those recommendations.