Pay teachers more or they will leave, SC education chief says

South Carolina must pay its teachers more to stop them from leaving the classroom, the state’s schools chief said Wednesday.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said she will push lawmakers to approve a pay raise for S.C. teachers, who earn about $800 less on average than teachers across the Southeast.

“Our neighboring states are beating us out” on teacher pay, Spearman said.

“We're going to see (an) exodus" of S.C. teachers to other states, Spearman predicted, particularly from classrooms in counties that border North Carolina, which is testing a new program to pay teachers more when their students perform well.

Roughly 6,500 S.C. teachers now leave their jobs each year.

Spearman testified before a state Senate panel tasked with finding ways to ensure the state’s public schools offer students a quality education, regardless of their poverty level or zip code.

The panel is one of many legislative efforts to address inequities in public schools that the S.C. Supreme Court has ordered the state to address.

Spearman said she is not sure the state will be able to close, in a single year, the $800 difference between the average S.C. teacher’s pay and the Southeastern average. But the state should have as its goal matching the Southeastern average, the first-term Republican said.

Spearman also said it’s time for the state’s very small, rural school districts to work together to consolidate administrative tasks, including human resources, purchasing, finance and transportation.

Asked whether she supports districts consolidating, Spearman said falling enrollment in rural districts points to the need to consolidate administrative functions at least.

“I have been saying that ‘C’ word, consolidation,” said Spearman, acknowledging how unpopular the concept is in small districts, where schools provide a community with its identity. “I do just have common sense. When you have very, very small districts, and they're declining in enrollment, most of them are low performing – it's time for us to look at this.

“It's difficult. It's emotional. I don't think you necessarily have to close schools. But I think you do need to think about consolidating your district-level services.”

Comparing teacher pay

S.C. needs to at least match teacher pay in other Southeastern states, the state’s schools superintendent says. Now, S.C. teachers badly trail their peers in nearby states.

Average teacher salary

S.C.: $48,769

North Carolina: $50,161

Georgia: $56,738

SOURCE: S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office