Teachers advocate for pension fix before Governor's desk

Updated: Apr. 7, 2017 at 8:04 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Lawmakers are trying to make good on a promise to those in public service, that the state will pay their retirement benefits. But first, they must right the pension fund that's a gaping hole of some $20 billion to $25 billion.

A bill to pump more funds into the retirement system and reform it is now passed by the Senate, awaiting Governor Henry McMaster's signature. Some teachers support the plan, believing it's a start but also hope for more changes in the future.

Math teacher-turned-education-advocate Bernadette Hampton is the President of the SC Education Association. She's had an eye on the bill the would raise the amount public workers pay for their retirement benefits, capping the contribution at 9 percent.

"It's unfortunate that South Carolina right now is one of three of the highest contributors to our retirement system," Hampton said.

Although she's disappointed that South Carolina is now among the top three states in the nation with for highest contribution rates, she is happy the legislation draws the line at 9 percent.

The legislation would also have employers - the taxpayer-funded municipalities like towns, counties and in Hampton's case, school districts, pay an eventual 18 percent toward their employee's benefits.

"That's less money for teacher resources and supplies and students, so that will have an impact on student achievement," Hampton said.

It's a sacrifice, but she believes it's a step toward securing the promise for benefits teachers otherwise worry could be in jeopardy.

Hampton believes securing the benefits at least fulfills the promise, as an attraction or recruiting tool- as South Carolina faces a teacher shortfall.

Another incentive she hopes to eventually secure to attract teachers to SC is pay raise. She says starting teacher salaries average at about $30,000.

The Economic Policy Institute calculates the cost of living in Columbia, South Carolina, for a one adult one child family to be $43, 694 annually.

Hampton hopes to eventually persuade lawmakers there's a way to raise pay and to give teachers back more than the half of their salaries in retirement.
"As I grow older, then you have more medical expenses, you have more needs that you have occur but you're only going to be receiving half of what you're currently making which is not going to help ends to meet," she says.

Separately, senators have also approved a possible $500 one-time bonus for state employees making below $50,000 that wouldn't include teachers.

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