On a Tuesday in November, Jared arrived in Jeff Maxey’s elementary school class, accompanied by a state caseworker.
The night before, the child’s mother was arrested. Hours later, he was balled up in a fetal position under his teacher’s desk, “scared and alone,” Maxey told S.C. House members Monday.
“The social and emotional state of children goes hand in hand with academic learning,” Maxey said. “A student under a desk cannot learn math.”
An hour later, Blythewood High School teacher Lisa Ellis told state senators that teachers get too little planning time, their classroom sizes are too large and readying students for standardized tests can take seven weeks a year. “As an adult, when have you ever needed bubbling skills?” Ellis asked the Senate Finance Committee’s K-12 panel.
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Education reform is expected to highlight the 2019 legislative session, as the state tries to counter losses in classroom teachers — in part, because of working conditions and, in part, because of low pay that, which for many S.C. teachers does not meet the Southeastern average.
The Republican-controlled S.C. House has endorsed the idea of focusing on education reform, led by House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, who told members this month he will push for changes when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw — chair of Monday’s Senate subcommittee — told The State he sees an opportunity to work with Lucas and other GOP leaders in 2019 to pass reform in the capitol’s upper chamber.
That Senate subcommittee is slated to meet again in January to announce the reform proposals that it will focus on and try to send to the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee, Sheheen said Monday.
“This is not just a get together, and talk and listen (subcommittee),” he said. “This is an actually do-something committee and these are do-something senators.”
‘South Carolina’s children lose’
It costs the state an estimated $18,000 every time a S.C. teacher leaves their classroom, senators heard Monday.
“That’s a much higher cost than it takes to actually retain them,” said Tommy Hodges, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of South Carolina’s College of Education.
How could lawmakers avoid that hit to the state’s pocketbook? For starters, raise teacher pay, teachers and their advocates say.
The S.C. Department of Education and teacher’s groups are pushing for a 5-percent pay raise in the state budget that takes effect July 1, 2019. This year, teachers received a 1-percent raise. However, the state also raised the pay of starting teachers to $32,000.
Most teachers have second jobs, said Sherry East, president of the S.C. Education Association teachers’ group.
“I had a second job for 23 years,” said East, a Rock Hill teacher. “I had better dental insurance through Advanced Auto Parts than the state of South Carolina.”
Unless the state takes aggressive steps to increase pay, for example, teaching will become just a “stepping-stone position” to another career, Maxey — the 2019 S.C. teacher of the year — warned legislators Monday.
Then, he said, “South Carolina’s children lose.”
Some teachers also are asking lawmakers to give them more time to plan their lessons and eliminate redundant standardized testing.
But, some lawmakers complained Monday, teachers have been unable to agree which test should be removed.
“We almost get no answer on that,” state Rep. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville, said at Monday’s House subcommittee meeting. “It’s frustrating to try to solve a problem when you can’t get your hands around it.”
The state Education Department also suggests caution before dropping tests.
“We can risk losing federal funding if we do not follow federal requirements,” said the Education Department’s Emily Heatwole. “It’s several hundred millions of dollars a year that could potentially be at stake” if certain federal requirements aren’t met.
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