- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A House panel’s solution for putting more high-quality teachers in rural South Carolina classrooms could involve paying higher salaries.

House Education Committee Chairwoman Rita Allison said Wednesday the Legislature needs to consider paying teachers more in the early years of their career. Young teachers often leave the profession because they can’t make enough in the classroom to provide for their families, she said.

“Salaries in the first five years are tremendously important,” said Allison, R-Lyman.

Under the state salary schedule, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree makes $29,589, although school districts can choose to pay higher. Rural districts pay less than their urban and suburban counterparts, while also offering less in the community, making it difficult to retain good teachers.

Currently, teachers can get student loans forgiven if they work in certain districts for five years. But many leave as soon as they’ve met that obligation, said Democratic Rep. Jackie Hayes, a long-time high school football coach in rural Dillon.

Members of a subcommittee he’s leading agreed that attracting quality teachers to poor, rural schools and keeping them there will require incentives. But what sort of compensation package would work remains unknown.

“This is a tall task,” Hayes said. “We’ll need to think outside the box. We want them to stay beyond those five years … But I don’t know of specific things we need to do.”

Recommendations adopted Wednesday include interviewing teachers in poor districts and surveying education majors in college to get their opinions.

Other ideas discussed include improving college instruction, setting criteria for school board candidates, and allowing the state Department of Education to hire and fire superintendents in certain circumstances.

School boards are supposed to set policy and hire a superintendent to run the schools, but superintendents can get in trouble with board members for not hiring or trying to fire somebody’s family member, said Rick Reames, director of the Pee Dee Education Center.

The panel rejected the idea Wednesday of recruiting teachers who are identified as successful in teaching children in poverty to be mentors of other teachers.

Retired Orangeburg 3 Superintendent David Longshore said those teachers need to stay in front of children.

“We’ve tried this mentorship enough over the years and it hasn’t worked very well. We assume teachers who do very well in the classroom can also go out and train other teachers to do well, and that’s not necessarily so,” he said. “We’ve taken good teachers out of the classroom and sent them to schools, and they turn out to be high-paid secretaries. We need to recruit teachers who have been proven successful and put them in a classroom and let them teach.”

Hayes’ panel is part of a larger House study committee, led by Allison, tasked with recommending how to respond to the state Supreme Court’s order last November that legislators fix South Carolina’s broken education system.

Ruling on a 21-year-old case, the justices found that the state’s decades-old, piecemeal funding scheme fails to provide students in poor, rural districts the opportunity to succeed. They told legislators and district officials to collectively fix the problem but gave no clear instructions and no timeline for doing so.

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