State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the likely Democratic candidate for governor, said Tuesday he will introduce legislation next week to raise the salaries of S.C. public school teachers to match the national average.
Sheheen’s proposal, made the day before Republican Gov. Nikki Haley introduces her education-reform plan, is in tandem with the Camden Democrat’s other major education-reform proposal, expanding the state’s optional 4-year-old kindergarten program to all 46 counties.
“There are two parts to improving education. One is access. The other is quality,” Sheheen said. “Having a great quality teacher in the classroom means you pay teachers well.”
The average S.C. teacher was paid $48,375 at the end of the 2013 school year, while the national average was $55,418, according to the state Department of Education.
State law requires the minimum salary paid S.C. teachers match the Southeastern average. But that standard is rarely met because lawmakers routinely suspend the law telling the Department of Education to get as close to the Southeastern average as possible. Sheheen’s bill would require that minimum salary match the national average.
According to the state’s minimum salary schedule, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience cannot make less than $29,523 a year. But most school districts pay more than the state minimum. For example, a teacher in Richland 2 with a bachelor’s degree and no experience was paid at least $34,520 during the 2013 school year.
Jackie Hicks, president of the S.C. Education Association, said the raises would “make a difference for those that will go into the teaching profession and stay in the teaching profession.”
Sheheen’s bill is still being written, so it is unclear how much the salary increases would cost the state. But Sheheen proposes stretching the increases across several years.
Haley is scheduled to unveil her education-reform package Wednesday, following a year-long “conversation” with teachers, business leaders and parents.
“Governor Haley has put forward a budget proposal every year, and she has never put forward an increase in teacher pay,” Sheheen said. “What we’ve seen with Haley and other leaders in this state over the last 10 years has really been the gimmick approach. You do enough standardized testing, vouchers, whatever the gimmick of the day is, that’s the solution. I take a common-sense approach.”
The last time teachers received a statewide raise was in 2012, when lawmakers approved a 2 percent salary increase. Haley vetoed part of the money for those raises, saying lawmakers should not use one-time money to pay for recurring expenses. Lawmakers overrode that veto.
Haley has said her education plan will focus on poorer school districts, programs aimed at reading, and more technology in the classroom and teacher training.
“Gov. Haley’s goal here is to better our education system and, in turn, the lives of South Carolina’s children, and our hope is the rest of our state’s political class will join her,” Rob Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman, said Tuesday.
Senate president pro tempore John Courson, R-Richland, said he supports Sheheen’s bill “philosophically.” But he wants to know how much it will cost.
State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, chairman of the House budget subcommittee for K-12 education, agreed. “I’m supportive of it, but that’s not really going to accomplish anything if we don’t have any money.”
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen wants to increase S.C. teacher salaries to match the national average.