Public schools have about 4,000 teachers who leave the classroom each year – and only about 2,000 new teachers are available to replace them, a state Senate panel was told Tuesday.
“That can’t sustain itself for long,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, a member of the new panel charged with recommending legislation to improve the state’s teaching profession.
Finding ways to attract talented teachers to public schools and keeping them there – and removing ineffective teachers more quickly – will be the panel’s focus, chairman Wes Hayes, R-York, said Tuesday at its first meeting.
The panel, which will meet again in September, heard Tuesday from education groups who said lawmakers should raise teacher salaries and improve existing teacher recruitment programs.
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Other members of the panel are state Sens. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, Larry Martin, R-Pickens, and Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston.
"We are alarmed that we are not producing enough teachers each year to fill the vacancies that are available each year," said Jane Turner, executive director of the Center for Recruitment, Retention and Advancement at Winthrop University.
To fill vacancies, school districts now depend on less reliable sources for teachers, including recruiting out-of-state and alternative-certification teachers, Turner said.
Roughly one in 10 teachers leave the classroom in their first year, Turner said, urging lawmakers to look at ways to keep new teachers in the profession.
Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said lawmakers should spend more taxpayer money on state-funded college fellowships that go to high-school seniors who commit to teaching in S.C. public schools after college. Reserving some fellowships for would-be math and science teachers could help fill those difficult-to-staff subject areas, she said.
The teaching fellows get up to $6,000 a year for four years to pay for college. Each year they teach in S.C. public schools after graduating is one year of financial aid they do not have to repay. And, supporters note, 72 percent of graduates from the teaching fellows program continue working in public schools. More than half of those work in low-preforming districts or districts with high levels of poverty or teacher turnover.
Turner hopes to award 200 fellowships next year. But expanding the program further will take more than money, she added. College teaching programs also would need to expand to accept more fellows.
S.C. Department of Education officials recommended offering teachers more competitive salaries and benefits for working in high-need subject areas and schools, and giving administrators an easier path to eliminating ineffective teachers.
The current process for removing under-performing teachers often results in costly, drawn-out appeals, said Thurmond, who hopes to push legislation to change that system.
“We should be paying teachers more,” Thurmond said. “But I want to feel confident that we have a system in place that expedites the process” of removing weak teachers.