Educators across SC take personal day to advocate for yearly pay increases, better working conditions

Updated: Sep. 23, 2020 at 8:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It appears teachers in South Carolina won’t be getting the annual pay bump they’re promised every year in 2020.

These are also known as step increases. The increases are funded by the General Assembly.

A budget plan passed by the Senate last week that includes money for the pay increases and hazard pay for some state workers will most likely not receive a vote in the House before the session ends Thursday.

In response to this, SC for Ed, the grassroots teacher group responsible for last year’s teacher rally at the State House, asked their members to take a personal day Wednesday.

They estimate hundreds of teachers in the state took a personal day to advocate for the step increases and better working conditions.

One of those teachers was Martha Hearn. She’s a middle school teacher at Richland School District One. She called her lawmakers and advocated for her profession.

“I want teachers to be supported because when you take care of people they take care of others in the best way they can,” she said.

Lawmakers froze the yearly step increases earlier this year because of the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy. DeNae Kizys is a teacher in Lexington School District Two.

She said, “That’s only part of it. We didn’t go into this to make money but it’s almost a slap in the face and we feel like we’re being ignored.”

Other teachers who do a lot of advocacy for the profession decided not to take a personal day. Michael Burgess is a teacher in Lexington School District One. He said he understands why other teachers took the personal day but he says his students need him to be at work, especially right now.

“I would never fault anybody for doing what their conscience tells them, but I have a problem with the timing of this. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. At a time where most of us are hybrid or virtual and you have limited time with your students,” he said.

The House is expected to put together a budget plan in January 2021 when they return to Columbia. The teacher step increase will be the first thing they tackle Rep. Murrell Smith (R-Sumter) said.

“I understand the frustration. I have friends contact about the uncertainty and dangers in their jobs. They need our gratitude,” Rep. Smith said.

Some teachers said they’ll continue to advocate for themselves and their colleagues for the rest of 2020. They will also be sure to make a difference in November when they vote.

Reina Floyd is a teacher at Lexington-Richland 5. She took a personal day but also kept in touch with her students virtually. She said, “If I did any of the things to parents or students lawmakers do to constituents, I’d be fired already. Nobody holds them accountable.”

SC for Ed said they are already making plans for their Lobby Day in 2021.

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