CAYCE, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday that he wants to give a $3,000 raise for all the state's nearly 53,000 teachers in next year's budget as part of a promise by Republican lawmakers to get paychecks above the national average by 2024.
The latest raise proposal would cost $211 million and should propel the average South Carolina teacher's salary into the top 25 in the nation and about $2,500 over the Southeast average, McMaster said Tuesday, citing National Education Association data as he announced his proposal.
“They don't want to do it for the money, but they can't do it without the money," McMaster said.
The $3,000 raise, if approved, would boost the minimum teacher salary in the state to $38,000, a 9% increase over this year. The average teacher in the state currently makes about $53,000 and would see a nearly 6% raise. The highest paid teacher in the state's biggest school district in Greenville County would see about a 3.5% raise on their roughly $85,000 salary.
Most of the state's teachers have already received a raise of about 4% in this year's budget.
Two teachers from Lexington School District 2 were invited to Tuesday's announcement. Cayce Elementary School third grade teacher Meredith Blackwood said this year's raise was enough to help her and her husband, also a teacher, buy their first home.
“While we both continue to work second jobs we're able to work fewer hours at those jobs and hope those efforts will continue," Blackwood said. “We chose this profession and will continue to choose this profession because we believe we are making a difference in the lives of our students."
The national average for teachers is just over $60,000 a year and House Speaker Jay Lucas joined the governor on stage to repeat his promise to do everything he can to get the state's average salary to that mark in five years.
Lucas, who started a very public push in 2019 to make education reform a cornerstone of his leadership, spent the fall talking to teachers of the year in districts across the state. He said while salaries did come up, he also heard their concerns about class sizes, reading programs and excessive testing and plans to put their concerns into legislation after the 2020 session starts Jan. 14.
“There's no need to give a child four or five formative reading tests ever year when the teacher will be the first one to tell you ‘I know that child can't read. Give me the time to teach the child to read,'" said Lucas, a Republican from Hartsville.
Grassroots teacher group SC for Ed released their goals for education legislation last month which included a call for a 5% across-the-board raise along with reducing standardized testing and class sizes and passing protections for teachers who speak up about problems.
They gave lawmakers a March 17 deadline, hinting that if progress isn't made, they would hold a rally similar to the one in May that shut down several school districts. That rally also brought 10,000 people to the Statehouse in one of the largest gatherings at the capitol in the past 20 years,
SC for Ed Board Member Nicole Walker said she wishes lawmakers would do more for veteran teachers, who stop getting yearly “step” raises when they reach their 23rd year of teaching - just as many of them are in their 40s with children near or in college and other mounting bills as retirement begins to loom.
Still, Walker said another yearly raise is a step in the right direction, so long as it isn't the only step in 2020.
“I just hope they don't think $3,000 a year is enough to keep us quiet on other things," Walker said.
About a dozen South Carolina House members joined McMaster. There were no state senators. But the governor and other lawmakers said not to read too much into that, adding they expect the Senate to work hard on a massive education overhaul bill the House passed last year.
Senate Finance Committee President Hugh Leatherman said he does not support or oppose any specific spending proposals until they get to his committee after passing the House. But the Florence Republican expects public education to be a large part of next year's budget.
“It is exciting to have a governor that supports public education the way Governor McMaster does," Leatherman said in a statement.
Typically, the $211 million price tag for the raises would be daunting, but state economists estimate South Carolina's rapid growth in population and in its economy will give the state $1.8 billion in additional money in the next budget, including $800 million from increased tax collections and fees that can be counted on annually.
© 2020 Associated Press