Politics & Government

Don’t call it a walkout. Why SC teachers will be at the State House Tuesday

South Carolina’s public-school teachers are not calling their all-day visit to the State House on Tuesday a walkout.

Instead, as state lawmakers begin debate Wednesday of a plan to overhaul the state’s K-12 schools, a grassroots teachers’ group, SCforED, has called for teachers to take a day off from work Tuesday and go to the State House to tell legislators what needs to be done to improve the state’s schools.

At least 200 teachers have told organizers they will be there, SCforEd said Monday.

“This is a walk-up. This is absolutely not a walkout,” said Nicole Walker, a teacher at Ridge View High School and SCforED board member. “Our students are important to us. We hope in South Carolina that we never walk out. We hope to be the state that gets all of this right and works with our Legislature before teaching and learning is impacted.”

As S.C. schools grapple with a teacher shortage — sparked, in part, by low pay — lawmakers say they are committed to increasing pay as part of their plan to revamp the state’s public schools.

Last week, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, introduced House Bill 3759, an 84-page piece of legislation that includes proposals to reduce standardized testing, consolidate small, rural school districts and raise the starting pay of teachers to $35,000 a year.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has asked lawmakers to add almost $155 million in the state’s budget that starts July 1 to give teachers a 5-percent pay raise. That pay hike would raise S.C. teacher’s salaries above the Southeastern average.

Teachers plan to gather at the State House early Tuesday, meeting with state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, and state Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, before filling the lobby. They will have on them a bingo card that encourages taking a selfie with a legislator, meeting with their state senator and requesting to meet with Gov. McMaster.

“Clearly, teachers really feel like they are being pushed out of the profession that they love,” Ott said.

It was not clear Monday how many teachers have asked their school districts to take a personal day off from work Tuesday to go the State House.

In the Richland 2 school district, for example, 33 teachers requested a personal day for Tuesday, said district spokeswoman Ishmael Abdus-Saboor.

“Employees are not required to provide a reason for using a personal day so we have no way of knowing how many of those 33 are using a personal day to attend the event at the State House,” Abdus-Saboor said. “Substitutes have been scheduled for all teachers.”

One of the teachers at the State House will be Chris Hass, a second-grade teacher at Richland 2’s Center for Inquiry magnet school.

“Last year, over 4,000 teachers left the classroom and we only graduated 1,600 new teachers,” Hass said last week. “That’s a slow walkout right there.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.
Lucas Daprile has been covering the University of South Carolina and higher education since March 2018. Before working for The State, he graduated from Ohio University and worked as an investigative reporter at TCPalm in Stuart, FL. There, where he won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for his political and environmental coverage.
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