In a first for it, the S.C. Department of Education is shelling out about $500,000 for a new statewide advertising campaign that it hopes will encourage more South Carolinians to become teachers.
The campaign started last week, with Phase 1 tackling negative perceptions of the education field, said agency spokesman Ryan Brown. Phase 2 will target younger people — for example, high school students — who might be interested in becoming teachers.
The advertisements are running on broadcast and cable TV, along with most social media platforms, YouTube, TV-and-movie-streaming-service Hulu and the TV-service Sling.
"The response has been very positive from the education community," Brown said. "(The campaign) does a good job personifying educators. It's not just your teacher, your principal. They are an everyday person, too. It helps to make that connection."
The Education Department's hope is the campaign draws more people into teaching as the state grapples with a teacher shortage.
Roughly 1,900 S.C. public school teachers could leave the classroom on June 30, with the end of a popular state retirement program — the Teacher Employee Retention Incentive, or TERI.
S.C. legislators have tried to tackle that potential exodus this session. For instance, state Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, proposed exempting teachers from the state's $10,000 cap on earnings for working retirees. However, the S.C. Senate Finance Committee killed that effort last month.
Another effort to recruit and retain teachers has included a push for pay raises.
In March, the S.C. House adopted a 2-percent pay raise for teachers as part of its proposed state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The Senate's budget-writing committee passed an increase of 1 percent and also added money to cover "step" — or experience — raises. Both chambers also bumped up the starting salary for new teachers to $32,000, up from about $30,000.
But teachers are not leaving the classroom solely because of low pay, state Sen. Greg Hembree said Tuesday during the Senate's budget debate.
"It's working conditions. It's that we're calling upon teachers to be security guards, to be psychiatrists, to be social workers, to be medical professionals," the Horry Republican said. "We're asking too much of our teachers, and we saddle them with a tremendous amount of administrative work."
Hembree asked to amend the Senate's 2018-19 budget proposal to direct the state Education Department to make recommendations by Jan. 15, 2019, on how to reduce and streamline the paperwork and reporting required of teachers, schools and school districts. Hembree's proposed amendment is likely to gain the full Senate's support.
"When young people become teachers, they expect to be teachers," Hembree said.