Politics & Government

SC Gov. McMaster, GOP leaders want K-12 education funding fix ideas by May

Why are SC teachers fleeing at record rates? Here’s a look at the crisis by the numbers

SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.
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SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and two Republican legislative leaders Thursday asked for a report on the state’s K-12 school system by May including options to increase the minimum pay for starting teachers to $35,000 a year and to consolidate school districts.

Low teacher pay and the push to merge school districts have emerged as key issues in the effort to reform the state’s schools system.

The state’s base pay for starting teachers is now $32,000 a year. However, many of the state’s 82 school districts add extra local money to that sum.

That number of school districts — in a state with 46 counties — has led to increasing calls to merge small districts. Advocates say that would save money on administrative and other costs.

In a joint letter, McMaster, state Senate president Harvey Peeler of Cherokee and House Speaker Jay Lucas of Darlington also asked state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office director Frank Rainwater to develop a new funding formula to pay for S.C. schools with help from the S.C. Department of Education and others.

Fiscal Affairs’ report — to address 11 goals, including starting teacher pay and school district mergers — must be submitted by May 9, the letter said.

The 11 goals outlined in Thursday’s letter could be the public’s first hint of the education reforms that are coming soon from Lucas, who is heading the S.C. House’s effort to overhaul schools policy and the way the state pays for K-12 education. The letter also is the first public declaration the Governor’s Office, and the GOP-controlled House and Senate will work together to try to fix the state’s education system during the two-year session that ends next spring.

State lawmakers are under pressure from education advocates and the state’s nearly 53,000 teachers. They warn legislators that more teachers will quit unless they get pay raises and non-teaching “classroom clutter” is cut.

In his executive budget proposal earlier this week, McMaster proposed a 5 percent pay raise for teachers as part of the solution to the state’s teacher shortage.

“I, along with President Peeler and Speaker Lucas, have studied the funding model and formula for education and share the same goal – ensuring that every man, woman or child has prosperity and the brightest of futures before them,” McMaster wrote to Rainwater. “We must improve scholastic outcomes in South Carolina, but true reform requires more than simply sending money from Columbia.”

In a tweet Thursday, state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda, thanked her fellow Republicans for their leadership. “The time to overhaul South Carolina’s antiquated education funding formula is now.”

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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.