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Teacher pay at forefront of South Carolina General Assembly's session

Costs for raise proposals vary from $34M to more than $200M

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 1/10/20

COLUMBIA - State General Assembly leaders held their annual legislative workshop for the media on Thursday to preview the upcoming 2020 session and, as expected, education and teacher pay dominated the discussion.

Like last year, the first of …

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Teacher pay at forefront of South Carolina General Assembly's session

Costs for raise proposals vary from $34M to more than $200M

Posted

COLUMBIA - State General Assembly leaders held their annual legislative workshop for the media on Thursday to preview the upcoming 2020 session and, as expected, education and teacher pay dominated the discussion.

Like last year, the first of this two-year session where bills filed must pass this year or be thrown out, a pay increase for teachers has bipartisan support among state lawmakers as they try to help increase educational outcomes for students and better fill the workforce pipeline to improve quality of life. Seventeen House and Senate leaders from both sides of the aisle - many who are key committee members - participated in Thursday's panel discussions.

Most seemed to agree a high-quality classroom teacher is the key to improving K-12 academic achievement and that pay is an essential part to that, but salary increase proposals put forth will vary in the session, which begins Tuesday.

According to analysis from the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, proposals vary in costs from $34 million to more than $200 million for the teacher raises.

In December, Gov. Henry McMaster pitched the idea of giving every teacher in the state a $3,000 raise, which would cost the state $211 million.

But with an estimated $1.8 billion budget surplus now for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020, the dollars are there to do it.

In 2019, lawmakers increased teacher pay by 4%.

This year's increase is a "big unknown," in the words of many.

"That's a debate and anybody's guess," said state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "It could be $50 million, $100 million, $200 million. I have a proposal of $225 million that I am going to make in the Senate."

Lawmakers also seemed to agree the raise is necessary to help increase teacher recruitment and retention in the state.

A second major headline item this session, outside the educational arena, will be whether to sell Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility.

About 65 newspaper and TV media members participated in the event. Look for more coverage in future editions of The Sumter Item.