Why are SC teachers fleeing at record rates? Here’s a look at the crisis by the numbers
The S.C. House adopted a one-year law Thursday that temporarily could ease a statewide teacher shortage and put an armed officer in every South Carolina public school.
By a unanimous vote, the House on Thursday amended the state's $8.2 billion general fund budget, including a proposal to let most retired state workers return to a state job and be exempt from a $10,000 earnings cap on working retirees if they retired on or before Dec. 31, 2017.
Supporters said the one-year-only law would help address the state's looming teacher shortage as well as a shortage of school resource officers.
However, the proposal first must clear budget negotiations between the House and Senate. Those negotiations, expected to start next week, are to work out differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget, which takes effect July 1.
Six lawmakers — three from the House and three from the Senate — will decide whether the amendment removing the salary cap on working retirees stays in the budget.
Many retired teachers and police officers want to return to work or stay on the job, advocates say. But those retirees can't afford to work because the state does not allow most working retirees to get their retirement benefits if they are paid $10,000 or more from their state jobs.
The six negotiators are House budget Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, and Reps. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg, and Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken., and Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and Sens. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, and John Matthews, D-Orangeburg.
However, even some supporters said Thursday the House amendment may be too broad.
"The broader you make it, the harder it is for it to get the votes to pass," said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw. "But it does show there's at least some desire in both bodies to allow some needed groups of employees to come back. It continues that conversation of: 'We should address this issue.' "
Education advocates worry a statewide teacher shortage could grow next school year after a popular state retirement program ends, potentially leading to a mass exodus of state employees.
About 6,630 retirement-aged public-sector workers could leave their jobs when the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive ends June 30. Half of those employees work for school districts, including roughly 1,900 teachers.
The House's action could help keep many of those teachers in the classroom, said Kathy Maness, head of the Palmetto State Teacher's Association.
"Who knew that our colleges wouldn't be putting out the number of teachers that we need and that we would have so many people leaving the profession," Maness said. "It (removal of the cap) will help with the teacher shortage crisis we have."
Retired police officers and firefighters also want to come back to work, advocates say.
Currently, S.C. police and fire agencies have about 1,200 open positions, positions that need to be filled to keep communities safe, they say.
Meanwhile, about 590 of the state's 1,195 public schools do not have an armed school resource officer on site, state officials say. However, state leaders and parents have been calling for more SROs in S.C. schools since 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school were killed by a gunman on Valentine's Day.
The $10,000 salary cap on retired state workers forces "retired South Carolina citizens, who wish to return to work, to take their experience, training and institutional knowledge across the state’s borders or to the private sector," said Jarrod Bruder, head of the S.C. Sheriff's Association and spokesman for the S.C. Public Safety Coalition.
Bruder said the state "desperately" needs to reverse its policy on paying retirees to tackle critical shortages in its workforce.
"South Carolina is simply not producing enough law enforcement officers, firefighters, corrections officers, mental-health counselors, DSS caseworkers, teachers ... to meet the state’s needs," he said. "Until we can address these serious shortages, our state must take advantage of a skilled applicant pool that can provide immediate assistance in serving our citizens."