South Carolina teachers have gathered outside the state’s Department of Education offices on Senate Street, ahead of marching down to the State House to call on lawmakers to increase their pay and approve reforms that improve the state’s public schools.
Today’s rally is expected to bring to the state’s capitol more than 4,000 teachers, their students, parents and advocates.
Teachers say the protest is not just about raising teacher pay — it’s also about advocating for better working conditions.
What does that mean? Less testing, a daily break for lunch, to use the restroom or pull together lesson plans. Teachers also say they want more support from their school district leaders, help with disruptive students and, especially, smaller class sizes.
Stay up to date with today’s march by keeping up with our live feed:
SC for Ed founder Lisa Ellis tells the crowd there are 53,000 teachers in South Carolina, “and we need all 53,000 here.”
Speeches are over. Teachers are invited to continue the rally and lobby their lawmakers inside. They are also encouraged to take advantage of discounts being offered for teachers by local businesses today.
The teachers’ rally at the S.C. State House wraps up with a speech from state Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, who is a former educator himself.
Fanning told the crowd, “You blew people’s minds today,” and called on them to go inside the State House after the rally “and make sure they hear your voice.”
Fanning also challenged the crowd to ask “every single legislator” to spend a day with them in the classroom and then make sure their voices are heard at the ballot box.
A young woman in the crowd appears to have gotten dehydrated and needed medical attention. She was alert as she was wheeled away.
Rep. Ivory Thigpen, D-Richland, compares the red-clad marchers to the Red Sea in the story of Moses. He leads the crowd in a chant of “I vote, I teach.”
Mike Burgess, the River Bluff high school teacher who helped write the “Teachers’ Bill of Rights” introduced this year, welcomes the crowd to “the world’s largest faculty meeting.”
“Everything we hold dear... is made possible by a quality education,” he says. Burgess says the state government has failed to make that possible.
State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, says his mother taught high school English for 40 years.
“Those who have tried to shame and minimize you into not showing up today say it’s all about you. It’s not,” Ott says. “You’re doing this for the students.”
“There are a lot of people in that building who won’t come out to face you, but they hear you,” Ott said.
Sellers takes a swipe at state lawmakers for considering tax breaks for the Carolina Panthers to move their headquarters to South Carolina, while being unwilling to spend more on schools.
“Are the luxury seats at Panthers stadium just that nice, or do they just not care?”
Says he will organize a political PAC that will target lawmakers who are not working to improve teaching conditions.
Former state Rep. Bakari Sellers compares the crowd to 1960s lunch-counter sit-ins. “It was dismissed as a college fad,” Sellers said. “(But) the seeds of dissent have fallen on fertile soil.”
“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” he said. “It never has, and it never will.”
Inside the State House, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas tells The State that teachers protesting the education bill his House passed are acting on “misinformation.”
Beatrice King, a member of the Richland District One school board, says “many in the Legislature are completely disregarding the input of teachers, education professionals and, yes, school boards, when an education bill is drafted.”
King says base funding has not increased since 2009.
Louise Brown was a part of the 1969 hospital workers’ strike in Charleston.
“In ‘69, we were fighting for the same thing you are fighting for,” she says.
“We don’t have dark money, we’re not part of an out-of-state organization,” Ellis says. “We were started by teachers, for teachers.”
“You did your best to the students of South Carolina despite the lack of resources, funding and support. You shape the future of South Carolina every day,” Ellis says.
“You are a vital part of improving our state by investing in its most precious resource, our children. Do not let anyone take your voice away again.”
Lisa Ellis, founder of the online group SC for Ed, is speaking from the State House steps.
“I got to the point where I was ready to walk away,” Ellis said. “Then I started a Facebook group and discovered I was not alone.”
The S.C. Department of Public Safety estimates 10,000 people are currently rallying at the S.C. State House.
Speakers are lining up to speak before the thousands of people at the rally, while state lawmakers are watching on from atop the State House steps.
Teachers have arrived at the front steps of the S.C. State House along Gervais Street. Speakers are set to begin at 10:30 a.m.
Sarah Burke, special ed teacher at Dutch Fork Elementary, is marching with teachers from the Department of Education building to the State House.
“If (legislators) don’t hear this crowd, they need to go see some of my deaf and hard-of-hearing teachers and they can help them,” she says.
“Teachers are leaving in record numbers,” Fanning said. “Last year, 6,000 teachers left. All the universities only put out 1,800 teachers.”
State Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, criticizes state Superintendent Molly Spearman, who said teachers are “walking out on their obligations” for holding this rally on a school day.
“Your own state superintendent shamed you about coming today,” Fanning said. “You deserve to be welcomed to your state Department of Education, but she turned her back on you.”
“Where’s Molly? Where’s Molly?” the crowd chants.
Spearman is filling in as a substitute teacher in a school where teachers took off to march today.
Kyle Brantley, a Blythewood High School student, spoke to rallygoers outside the Department of Education building Wednesday morning in support of his teachers who are marching.
“Our teachers are vital to society, and it’s time we started to treat them as such,” he said. “While the difficulty of teaching has increased, the salary has not.”
As of midnight, some 6,700 people had registered to attend the May 1 rally at the State House, organizers say.
▪ 9 to 9:45 a.m.: Register and rally at the S.C. Department of Education office, 1429 Senate St.
▪ 9:45 to 10:30 a.m.: March to and around the State House on Gervais Street
▪ 10:30 to noon: Speakers
▪ Noon to 2:30 p.m: Line Gervais Street for rally