‘Education is the key’: SC teachers and state workers rally at State House
South Carolina’s K-12 school students are taking too many tests that soak up too many vital hours, depriving them of instruction that could help them succeed in the next grade, state senators heard Wednesday.
Meanwhile, teachers don’t have enough time to plan instruction, the legislators were told.
And don’t forget about low teacher pay, the educators repeated Wednesday.
“Teacher time and teacher pay continue to be the No. 1 concerns,” said 22-year educator Aimee Fulmer, principal at Bowen’s Corner Elementary School in Hanahan.
Fulmer was one of four S.C. educators who testified Wednesday before a Senate Finance Committee panel about classroom barriers that hinder learning.
“We frequently hear from our educators that it is difficult for teachers to focus on the classroom because they have so many other things they have to deal with,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who chaired the hearing. “We wanted to hear from the people who are there, in the classrooms, making it all happen.”
Fulmer told the legislators that teachers — from elementary to high school — are frustrated by and concerned about the state’s 2014 Read to Succeed Act, intended to improve student literacy.
That law required teachers get training in how to teach reading. Last year, another layer of the legislation also took effect. Now, S.C. third-graders struggling to read at their grade level could be held back a year to repeat the grade.
“The Read to Succeed legislation is significant, and the requirements are substantial when placed on an already overworked teacher’s plate,” Fulmer said, suggesting the law’s requirements be reduced.
State Sen. Shane Martin, a Spartanburg Republican who said he voted against the bill, said he was pleased to hear Fulmer’s remarks.
“It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t want to help kids,” Martin said. “It’s that I knew ... there were going to be unintended consequences, things that would come immediately and things that wouldn’t be recognized for two, three, four years down the road.”
Faced with a growing teacher shortage, S.C. education leaders say they want to cut down on the demands on teachers.
State schools Superintendent Molly Spearman said in May she is trying to cut back on testing and paperwork, including asking legislators not to pass any new laws requiring anything more of teachers.
Any solution to keeping teachers in their classrooms must include conversations about low pay, educators told legislators.
Education advocates — including the S.C. Department of Education — have sought to mitigate the state’s ongoing teacher shortage by advocating for more pay raises and less testing, which will cost the state about $27.3 million in this year alone. Still, nearly 5,000 S.C. teachers quit public school classrooms last year.
In June, lawmakers agreed to give S.C. teachers a 1-percent pay raise — bumping the average S.C. teacher salary to $50,050, still below the Southeastern average — and hike starting pay to $32,000, up from $30,000.
In its budget request for the state’s fiscal year that starts next July 1, the state Education Department will ask for a 5-percent pay raise for teachers, said spokesman Ryan Brown.
“There was a time when teachers were revered, respected and admired,” Saluda High School principal Sarah Longshore told senators Wednesday.
As a first-year teacher, Longshore said she worked a part-time restaurant job to pay her bills. “The money I made ... 16 years ago is not very different from what they are making today.”