SC teachers plan to ‘step out’ of the classroom in protest

SC teachers plan to ‘step out’ of the classroom in protest

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Hundreds, possibly thousands of South Carolina public school teachers, will take a day off Wednesday in protest.

The teacher’s organization, SC for Ed, led 10,000 teachers in a march to the Statehouse in May 2019 to fight for education funding.

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In July, hundreds drove to the Statehouse and stayed in their cars for a motor rally to support virtual school and demonstrate against sending teachers back into the classroom.

Elementary school teacher Katie Harris, of Fort Mill, was with the group in July, and she plans to take Wednesday off.

“I’ve already requested the day and it’s been approved,” Harris said.

The issue this time is the budget being debated in Columbia this week. Last spring, state lawmakers froze teacher salaries, which means annual step increases were not given.

Those increases, which are based on years of service, are usually about 2%.

The South Carolina Senate approved a bill with $50 million included for the step increases.

However, House members did not pass it.

There was also $6 million for more school nurses that is now in question as well.

Channel 9 contacted the State Department of Education on Friday about the “Step Up and Step Out” protest.

The Department of Education hasn’t endorsed the initiative, but officials responded to questions about the protest.

Spokesman Ryan Brown said:

“Failure to pass the proposed $50 million increase and reinstate the step raise could potentially lead to a greater teaching shortage than our state is already experiencing, which would have implications well beyond the pandemic.”

State lawmakers have a few days next week to finish a budget in a special session before they go home until January. COVID-19 postponed most of the major work from the legislature earlier in the year.

York-Chester County Republican Rep. Randy Ligon said he felt uneasy about voting for the step increases for teachers at this time.

He said legislators aren’t telling teachers “no” but rather are saying “wait.”

He said the budget for next year is still uncertain and more would be known in December and January.

“We just have to wait until we’re sure the check’s good, you know? You don’t want to promise something you can’t deliver, and you don’t want to turn around and take it away from them after you give it to them,” Ligon said.

Harris said this is an election year and there’s no guarantee that anything would be approved in 2021.

“Saying to wait until January is basically saying, ‘We’re not giving it this year, and we’re not really sure what the House and Senate will look like in January,’” she said.

Protesters have said the salary issue may cause more teachers to leave their jobs. However, as of Friday, Rock Hill had no teacher vacancies. Fort Mill had eight.

In Fort Mill Schools where Harris teaches, the district paid teachers the difference after the state froze salaries and failed to approve those step increases. A spokesman for Fort Mill Schools said the district wanted to look out for its teachers.

Most school districts are not financially able to do that.

It’s not clear how many teachers will “Stand Up and Step Out” Wednesday.

There is concern about finding enough substitutes to work and teach that day if a lot of teachers attend the protest.