Proposal would pay SC college students majoring in education if they become teachers

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Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 6:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As South Carolina looks to address its growing teacher shortage, educators say the problem is not worsening solely because more teachers are leaving the classroom, though that is a driver.

They say fewer people becoming teachers in the first place is exacerbating the issue, leaving more than 1,100 classrooms across the state without a teacher, as of February.

But a proposal moving through the South Carolina Senate aims to incentivize students to take those jobs.

Currently students who receive LIFE or Palmetto Fellows Scholarships to attend South Carolina’s four-year, public and private colleges and universities can receive additional money while they are in school if they major in math or science.

This proposal would expand that to education majors, in the hopes those students will teach in South Carolina’s classrooms once they graduate.

“This will move the needle with our high school students and attract them to the field,” Palmetto State Teachers Association Director of Government Affairs Patrick Kelly told members of a Senate Education subcommittee Wednesday. “The retention part, you guys are working on through other avenues — unencumbered time, other issues — but we’ve got to get them into the pipeline. If we don’t, there’s nobody to retain.”

Under this bill, education majors with LIFE Scholarships could receive up to an additional $2,500 a year, beginning their sophomore year, until they graduate from a four- or five-year program.

That amount would be bumped up to $3,300 a year for education majors with the more competitive Palmetto Fellows Scholarships.

“Passage of this bill would reduce the student-debt burden on future educators, which will keep them in the profession longer,” Palmetto State Teachers Association Executive Director Kathy Maness, who is also running for state superintendent of education, said.

During a meeting Wednesday, in which a panel of senators advanced the plan to be considered by the full Senate Education Committee at a meeting next week, PSTA, the state Commission on Higher Education, and some lawmakers asked a requirement be added in that students have to teach a year in South Carolina schools for each year they receive this extra money.

“We don’t want a student to have a check cut, and then they take it to another state. We don’t want that at all,” Commission on Higher Education Director of Student Affairs Dr. Karen Woodfaulk said, adding the commission has not taken an official stance on this legislation in particular.

“I’m fine with that, too, to ensure that the students are going to take advantage of the supplement, that they’ve got to commit to working in the field. That makes sense,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield, responded.

As part of this proposal, the Commission on Higher Education would be responsible for defining which majors qualify as education majors and for outlining the criteria by which students would be eligible for the stipend.

With the key “crossover” deadline passing last week at the State House, this bill would need to earn support from two-thirds of senators to pass the Senate and move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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