Task force unveils recommendations for boosting S.C. teacher recruitment, retention

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 8:41 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina’s teacher shortage has only worsened over the last several years, but a comprehensive new report aims to set the policy that could end that trend.

According to an annual report from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement (CERRA), there were 1,474 unfilled K-12 educator jobs at the start of the 2022-2023 school year, nearly a 40% increase from the year before and more than double the figure from two years prior.

Now a group made up of a former state superintendent, lawmakers, current teachers and district superintendents, and other education leaders has released its recommendations for turning that troubling trend around.

“I think what’s really driving this train right now is the teacher shortage is showing up every August,” Sherry East of the South Carolina Education Association said.

For the last several months, the statewide Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force has been meeting, taking testimony from experts and the public, and studying South Carolina’s educator shortage.

In total, the committee is now making 23 recommendations to address teacher recruitment and retention.

“This was a significant investment of time, to make sure the recommendations in this report were begin responsive to the needs of educators, as identified by the experts themselves, the teachers of South Carolina,” Patrick Kelly, a high school teacher in Richland County and task force member, who also works for the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said.

The 23 recommendations are divided among four main categories: compensation and evaluation, recruitment, educator preparation, and working conditions.

Under compensation and evaluation, they include raising the statewide starting salary for teachers to $50,000 by 2026 and revamping the salary structure.

“It’s not just the same call for more funding. It’s more funding in order to achieve innovative ideas,” Kelly said.

Recommendations to boost recruitment involve a public relations campaign to enhance public respect for the profession and bringing more retired teachers back to the classroom.

They also want to better prepare educators through steps like improving mentor programs and eliminating the current requirement for would-be teachers to pass a basic skills assessment to enter a preparation program.

Finally, they are looking to improve working conditions, with recommendations including expanding unencumbered time policies, guaranteeing more teachers get a daily break or planning period, and ensuring accountability for student behavior.

“Especially post-pandemic, we’ve really heard a lot that there’s a lot of violence going on, a lot of disruptive behavior that keep you from teaching and a lack of support from administrators,” East said.

Some of these recommendations would require legislative action, so they would not be able to be taken up before next year, with the General Assembly’s 2023 regular session over.

Others would only need approval from the state Department of Education or individual districts to implement.

“Every vacant teaching position in South Carolina impacts a child who’s going through a K-12 education progression that they don’t get to do over, so the urgency has to be great,” Kelly said.

In a statement, South Carolina Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver called the recommendations a “roadmap,” saying, “This important report speaks powerfully to key themes I’ve heard from educators across the state. We must pursue clarity of vision and alignment of resources to reimagine how we recruit, prepare, and support new educators; equip and grow our teachers as classroom leaders and our principals as school culture builders; and ensure that when it comes to student discipline, our educators know that we have their back.”

Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday he had not yet reviewed the full recommendations but added he supports proposals like raising the statewide starting salary to $50,000 by 2026.

“We’re doing the things that we set out to do, and there’s more to do,” McMaster said. “We know we have the best students in the whole world; we want to have the very best teachers in our schools.”

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