Proposal Requires South Carolina Legislators to Substitute Teach as Vacancies Exceed 1,600

In an effort to address the ongoing teacher shortages in South Carolina schools, one state legislator is proposing a new bill that would require lawmakers to spend more time inside K-12 schools. Representative Jermaine Johnson plans to introduce the bill next month, which would mandate that legislators substitute teach or volunteer at schools at least five times a year. This initiative aims to allow lawmakers to witness firsthand the challenges faced by teachers and students. Currently, there are nearly 1,400 teaching vacancies in South Carolina schools, along with over 200 unfilled positions for librarians, counselors, psychologists, and speech therapists.

According to a report released by the state Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention & Advancement, these numbers represent a 9% increase from the previous year, reaching an all-time high. Patrick Kelly, a lobbyist for the Palmetto State Teachers Association, expressed concern over these statistics, stating that the number of vacant positions is staggering. While bringing legislators into schools may not fill all the vacancies, Kelly believes it will at least demonstrate their attention and awareness of the issue. However, he also noted that the proposal holds symbolic value rather than providing a definitive solution to the shortage problem.

Johnson acknowledges that his proposal is unlikely to pass but hopes to generate a conversation about the reality of school conditions. He wants to challenge the notion that lawmakers only express support for teachers without truly understanding their day-to-day experiences. To lead by example, Johnson himself has been substituting at schools in Richland County School District One since August, allowing him to gain valuable insight into the challenges faced by teachers firsthand. For instance, he discovered that special education teachers have additional responsibilities but receive the same pay as their colleagues in regular classrooms.

Johnson’s proposal also includes increasing the minimum starting salary for special education teachers to $52,000. Additionally, many educators believe that lawmakers spending time inside schools and witnessing the daily routines can help them gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by teachers. Sherry East, president of the South Carolina Education Association, commented on the power of firsthand experiences to comprehend the realities of a typical school day. Both East and Kelly emphasized that while pay is a significant issue, it is not the only challenge teachers face. The state Department of Education is requesting $136 million in next year’s budget to raise teacher salaries by $1,500. Furthermore, the education department seeks additional funding for signing bonuses, a program based on student performance, and initiatives to tackle duties and behavioral issues faced by teachers.

Despite these efforts, a comprehensive solution requires a multifaceted approach. Kelly suggests implementing a career ladder system, allowing teachers to advance without becoming administrators, while East proposes establishing alternative schools to support elementary-grade students struggling with behavioral issues. Ultimately, having legislators present in schools is a positive step towards increasing the number of dedicated individuals supporting students’ education. The bill’s main intention is to continue the discussion and shed light on the experiences of teachers and students.

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