South Carolina

Lawmakers phased out a $5K stipend for SC teachers. But will they get it back?

Why is there a teaching crisis in SC?

South Carolina teachers are leaving the classroom at an alarming rate
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South Carolina teachers are leaving the classroom at an alarming rate

State lawmakers ended a $5,000-a-year salary supplement for teachers with a prestigious certification if they failed to start the certification process by a June deadline last summer.

But now, teacher groups are urging lawmakers to reverse their decision, arguing the stipend for National Board certified teachers is an important tool for keeping teachers in the classroom, especially as the state faces an ongoing and worsening teacher shortage.

“It’s a direct incentive to staying in the classroom,” said Sherry East, president of the S.C. Education Association, the state’s second largest advocacy group for teachers. “This process they go through is an intense process that makes them better teachers.”

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Last summer, state lawmakers agreed to end the salary supplement for new teachers or those who failed to make the deadline for seeking to be certified or re-certified by the National Board.

Of the state’s more than 52,000 teachers, 5,098 are National Board certified teachers, including 4,837 who are getting the state supplement as of February, according to the Center for Educator Recruit, Retention and Advancement at Winthrop University. About 555 candidates are in the pipeline now to get their certificate, and 99 are eligible to get their certification this fall.

The certification process is difficult, costing nearly $2,000 paid for by teachers, and can take three to five years to complete. But some teachers see getting the certification and the salary supplement, which before last summer, they were eligible to receive for 10 years, financially necessary. Teachers also must have three years of classroom experience to apply.

“In order for me to stay in the classroom, I need to have that extra income,” said 36-year veteran teacher Sabrina Williams, who teaches social studies at Lexington County’s Pelion Middle School and is certified through the National Board. “It is keeping me in the classroom as opposed to finding other careers.”

Lawmakers occasionally debate whether the program is worth keeping, noting that participation has dropped. And this year the state approved teacher pay raises by at least 4% with a stated goal of raising average teacher pay to the national average of nearly $60,000.

However, advocates of continuing the supplement say it comes at little cost to the state. In the 2012-13 budget year, lawmakers spent about $64 million to cover the supplement’s cost. This year, about $44.5 million.

The cost is worth it, said Kathy Maness, head of the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

“This gives them the opportunity to see what they have to do to be a better teacher,” Maness said. “We see this as a way of keeping teachers in the classroom, because, really, the only way teachers make more money is by going into administration.”

Teachers could prove successful in their efforts next year.

For starters, the S.C. Department of Education, which supports the stipend, is committed to finding a solution that works for teachers and the state, said spokesman Ryan Brown. Advocates of the salary supplement also have a powerful ally in state Rep. Murrell Smith, who leads the House budget-writing committee.

Smith, a Sumter Republican who became chairman in December, told The State he personally supports bringing it back.

“I think it was a mistake to remove it,” he said. “Regardless of that, it’s important the teachers who invest the time to obtain that certificate reap benefit from it. We need to encourage teachers to seek that certificate. It gives them a morale boost. It gives them something to take pride in.”

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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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