Politics & Government

SC poised to give teachers a pay raise. But one senator argues it’ll sow division

South Carolina’s classroom teachers are poised to get a pay raise this year that lawmakers hope puts a stop to a statewide shortage.

For almost two hours, the S.C. Senate debated Wednesday whether to include about $159 million in the state’s projected $9.3 billion budget to raise the base pay for new teachers — to $35,000, from $32,000 — and give each teacher, at minimum, a 4% pay raise.

The Senate is expected to adopt that raise, already passed by the S.C. House, as part of the overall state budget as soon as Thursday, despite appeals from one senator that the raise would do more harm than good.

Senate Education chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, proposed giving each teacher a 5% pay raise, regardless of how many years a teacher has been in the classroom, including new teachers. He also proposed boosting start teacher salaries to $33,600 a year — not the $35,000 increase that is likely to be approved.

“Two classes of teachers will be created in our schools” with that proposal, Hembree said. “There will be teachers that get a big raise, and the teachers that are going to be disgruntled, resentful and disappointed.”

Giving every teacher that 5% raise would have ensured each teacher is treated fairly, Hembree said.

“I’m proposing this to build morale, to do what little bit we can from Columbia, South Carolina,” he said, calling the current budget plan a recipe for sowing bad feelings among teachers.

Hembree’s effort, however, fell short after the Senate voted 30-15 to kill the proposal.

Senators worried Hembree’s proposal would further hurt the state’s teacher recruitment effort and cut into money that each school district, particularly those in the poorest areas, get to cover teacher pay raises and other classroom instruction.

Hembree’s proposal was well intended, said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who added, “but the results will be very bad.”

“Please understand who gets screwed under this amendment,” said Sheheen, who chairs the Senate’s K-12 schools budget panel. “New teachers. Guess where we’re losing teachers? ... The first four years we lose our teachers.”

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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.
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