Gov. Henry McMaster on Thursday rolled out a 97-person education coalition — former and current teachers, school board members, college professors and state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman — who back the Columbia Republican for governor against Democratic state Rep. James Smith.
The move is a push back against Smith, who has said, if elected, he will be the state’s next “education governor.” Smith has endorsed giving bonuses and raises to the state’s underpaid teachers and other workers. In return, one of the state’s largest teachers’ groups has endorsed the Democrat.
The pro-McMaster coalition was pulled together to “bring the best ideas” on improving S.C. education, said Pamela Evette, the governor’s lieutenant governor-running mate. It was announced outside the S.C. Department of Education on Thursday, less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
“I’m honored to serve alongside the governor,” said state Superintendent Spearman, R-Saluda, calling McMaster her “teammate” for the next four years. “We are definitely moving in the right direction.”
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The governor on Thursday touted his school-safety efforts this past legislative session and the state’s economic success. However, McMaster twice declined to say how much he would ask the Legislature to raise teacher salaries next year. In South Carolina, teachers currently average $50,050 a year, below the Southeastern average of $50,119.
McMaster said pay must be competitive, adding he supports raises for teachers along with law enforcement. (This year’s state budget, which McMaster signed, included a 1-percent teacher pay raise.) But, he added, S.C. teachers have other concerns, besides pay. They “want to be allowed to teach,” he said.
“Sometimes, with all the testing we’ve been doing over the years, it seems that we’re testing the teachers, not so much the students,” McMaster told reporters, saying he has met former and current teachers who say the tests “are just killing them.”
With the state facing a teacher shortage, lawmakers and the next governor will hear more from teachers about pay in January, when legislators return to Columbia.
McMaster’s opponent Smith — who has the support of a teacher’s group, the S.C. Education Association — proposes raising teacher salaries beyond the Southeastern average during his first year as governor. He also wants the state’s $177 million budget surplus — not including a $70 million lottery windfall — to be used for one-time bonuses for the state’ s 80,000-plus teachers and other workers.
“It (raising teacher pay) requires a negotiation with the House and Senate leadership, and I’ve already started some initial discussions,” Smith said on Thursday.