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Why SC teachers question Republican education reform bill

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Goose Creek Elementary teacher K.C. Murphy never had been to the State House before or met her state representative until she joined more than 100 other teachers Tuesday, descending on Columbia to push for more money for schools and reform of the state’s K-12 system.

“It’s important that we’re here,” said Murphy, who trotted from office to office with more than a dozen other Berkeley County teachers to speak with House members. The teachers wore red to show solidarity with other public-school teachers across the country.

Many of the teachers said Tuesday they have felt pushed to the sidelines as the General Assembly begins debate Wednesday of an education reform bill sponsored by S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas. The Darlington Republican filed House Bill 3759 last week, an 84-page proposal that would raise the starting salary of teachers to $35,000, give other teachers pay raises, consolidate rural school districts, and overhaul how the state pays for schools and classrooms.

Amid a statewide teacher shortage, teachers have been calling on S.C. legislators to add more money to the state’s budget that starts July 1 to increase their salaries above the Southeastern average for teachers — just more than $51,000.

Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Richland, and state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman both have proposed 5 percent raises. However, some Democratic legislators say far more — from 10 to 20 percent pay hikes — are needed.

Low pay is blamed, in part, for the absence of qualified teachers in some S.C. classrooms. Unable to hire enough teachers, S.C. schools increasingly have had to rely on substitute teachers and international teachers to educate the state’s K-12 students.

“I think of this as we’re going into a parent conference, and I don’t ever want a parent coming in, lambasting me and telling me all the things I’m doing wrong,” Lisa Ellis, founder of grassroots teachers’ group, SCforED, told teachers Tuesday. “A lot of them (lawmakers) just are unaware of what’s going on in the classroom.”

leaving to track down their respective House and Senate member

“I know that this is the last place that you want to be,” state Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, told teachers early Tuesday. “I know that each and every one of you would rather be in your classrooms right now with your children, and, I promise you, they would rather you be in the classroom with them as well.”

“Gives you goosebumps to look at all across these faces.”

“Thank you for all that you do.”

“My mom was a public school teacher her entire career. So this is near and dear to my heart.”

“This is that important. That’s why you’re here today.”

“Without y’all, without y’alls group, without your fight that you brought to the state house thus far, we wouldn’t even have a bill to be talking about.”

State Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun, asked a State House room packed with teachers how many have thought about quitting their jobs.

Nearly every teacher raised their hand.



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