South Carolina's teacher shortage: superintendent clears the air

South Carolina's teacher shortage: superintendent clears the air

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina's top public education leader wants to set the record straight.

Superintendent Molly Spearman says the state's teacher shortage isn't as bad as it seems.

While she looks for ways to get more teachers to work, she spoke with WIS. Not only does Spearman say there's not exactly a mass exodus of teachers from South Carolina schools, she also takes issue with Wallethub's latest ranking. Wallethub puts the state third worst in the nation for teachers.

There are classrooms in need of teachers in South Carolina, but Spearman wants to clear the air. Recent data from the CERRA (Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement) shows 6,482 teachers not returning to their same position. She says that doesn't mean those teachers quit South Carolina schools altogether.

"So, many of those may have moved within the district, across district lines, and that's pretty normal I think," Spearman says.

She says the figure reflecting teachers needed is somewhere around 1,200 and believes that's still a problem. So, how can teachers be convinced to come to work in the Palmetto State and stay? It will take more pay, support in the classroom, and other things, teachers tell WIS.

"If we don't think differently about how we ensure that we keep them in the profession, then we're not going to be able to properly service the children," Dr. Phadra Williams says.

Williams is a former special education teacher and interim executive director for the SCEA (South Carolina Education Association). She says it's time for radical change.

"Homeownership. Home ownership is huge, so providing down payments with commitment to a district for a down payment on a home to stay within a district, particularly in rural areas," she says.

Otherwise, she believes a profession could be at stake. Spearman hopes things can change before students turn from teaching.

"Just, the whole idea to be proud to be a teacher, and have young people and little children raising their hand and say, 'I want to be a teacher when I grow up,' we don't want that enthusiasm to change," Spearman says.

The problem with the latest Wallethub ranking that reflects poorly on South Carolina, Spearman says, is in the metrics used. For instance, the state ranks poorly in union involvement, but it's not a union state.

Spearman does admit salaries in South Carolina aren't competitive to those elsewhere. The state falls about $1,000 below the Southeast average, coming in at an average of about $48,000 per year. Starting teachers make as little as $30,200 per year, which is what the state contributes to salaries currently. Spearman's budget request for lawmakers for next year attempts to get her department's contribution to starting teacher salaries up to $32,000 per year, she says.

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