Recruiting & Retaining South Carolina’s Teachers

May 6, 2024

Felicity Ropp

Policy Analyst

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we’d like to draw attention to important legislation aimed at addressing South Carolina’s teacher shortage. South Carolina’s teacher shortage is one of the major problems facing education in our state. At the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, there were roughly 1,600 teacher vacancies statewide, a 9% increase from the previous year. Tackling this problem has been a top legislative priority in the 125th General Assembly, and there are several bills close to to becoming law that would go a long way toward combatting the teacher shortage by removing barriers to entry and treating teachers like the professionals they are.

Two of these bills—S.305 and S.124—have quietly moved through the General Assembly this legislative session and, if signed into law, would make a huge impact on the teacher certification process. Both have passed the Senate, and as of last week, passed the House with amendments (more on these later).

S.305 increases the salary of those entering the teaching profession with prior work experience in their field. Under it, new teachers would be awarded one year of “experience credit” for every year of full-time work experience relevant to their subject. This “experience credit” goes toward increasing the teacher’s starting salary under the State Minimum Teacher Salary Schedule, which is scaled based on years of teaching experience. New teachers certified anytime after July 1, 2023, would be able to have their work experience recognized as experience credit. Professionals with years of out-of-the-classroom experience should be valued for the real world credentials and perspective they bring to the classroom, and South Carolina should make it as easy as possible for proven professionals to become educators.

S.124 establishes a pilot program to address teacher shortages in critical need areas of the state by allowing certain schools to hire non-certified teachers. Schools eligible to participate in this program are those in “critical geographic areas” of the state (for example, rural districts that struggle to recruit teachers) or who are lacking teachers in critical need subject areas as defined by the SC Department of Education (SCDE) Examples of critical need subject areas for the 2023-24 school year include mathematics, computer science, special education, and social studies, just to name a few. If a school principal opts to participate in this pilot program (with approval of his school district and SCDE), they would be able to hire “noncertified teachers in a ratio of up to 25% percent of [their] entire teaching staff,” although the Senate version of the bill capped the ratio at 10%. Noncertified teachers participating in this program must register with SCDE, have relevant bachelor’s or graduate degrees to the subject area they’ll teach, have at least five years of relevant workplace experience, go through rigorous background checks, and be willing to participate in trainings and the official certification process within three years of hiring. This innovative program can make a substantial impact for struggling schools, and it gives a fast-track for South Carolinians interested in a career change to serve as teachers.

Both of these Senate-drafted bills were amended in the House Education and Public Works committee to include provisions from a House bill proposed last year, the Educator Assistance Act. This legislation, championed by Education Chairlady Shannon Erickson, creates another avenue for combatting teacher shortages by allowing more flexibility in teachers’ contracts. Under current law, South Carolina teachers’ licenses are suspended for a year if a teacher leaves their job before their school-year-long contract ends. This creates a difficult situation for many educators, who may have family emergencies, health situations, or changes to their spouse’s job come up mid-year. Instead of being able to easily relocate or take time off, teachers are blocked from returning to the classroom because of these certification suspensions. The State found that “166 teachers had their certifications suspended last year, most for breaking a teacher contract because a spouse had to move for work or a relative experienced a health crisis.”

The Educator Assistance Act removes some of these stringent rules for teacher certification. It allows teachers a 10-day window after their school district’s salary schedule is published to withdraw acceptance of their teaching contract without consequences for their teacher certification. We don’t expect anyone in the private sector to sign a contract without knowing their salary offer, and we don’t rescind private sector licensure if they choose to walk away from a job—why should it be any different for teachers? Additionally, the bill gives the State Board of Education more flexibility in suspending teacher licenses, requires school districts to report breaches of contract within 30 days, starts the suspension clock at when teachers left their job (rather than when the suspension is approved by the State Board), and limits the maximum suspension to 6 months if a teacher has lined up a job with another school district. For more information on the Teacher Assistance Act, refer to The State‘s excellent April 29 write-up. Both of these bills now go back to the Senate. Chairlady Erickson remains hopeful that the Senate will consider and pass the Educator Assistance Act along with S.305 and/or S.124.

Another notable House amendment was made to S.124, to modify requirements to districts’ annual school calendars for teachers. The amendment cuts down on the number of required professional development days and requires at least two days before the start of school to be designated as teacher workdays, so teachers have “time that is self-directed and free from assigned meetings or training in order to evaluate student academic data and to plan and prepare instructional materials and classroom spaces for the start of the school year.” We wholeheartedly support this proposal. Teachers do not need superfluous professional development and training days that prevent them from doing their job and preparing their classrooms!

We also have our eye on S.125, which passed the Senate and now sits on the House calendar, as amended by the House Education committee. This bill extends the existing SC Life and Palmetto Fellows scholarship stipend for STEM students (an additional $2,500-$3,300 per year) to college students majoring in education. To receive the scholarship boost, the student must agree to teach in a SC school after graduation for one year for every year the stipend is received (a maximum of three years). An amendment made in the House Education Committee specifies that these stipends must be prioritized for mathematics education and science education students, “in addition to other subjects considered appropriate” by the Commission on Higher Education. With so many college students brain-draining out of South Carolina, this legislation is a welcome plan to incentivize high-achieving SC students to stay in state and pursue a career in education.

Finally, I cannot neglect to mention the teacher salary proviso in the 2024-25 FY budget approved by both the House and Senate. After the rest of the budget is negotiated and signed into law, all SC teachers are expected to receive a raise, and the minimum starting salary will be increased to $47,000 a year. Governor McMaster has advocated for setting teacher salary minimums at $50,000 starting in 2026, and this pay raise puts us well on the way there.

South Carolina’s teachers are public servants, and our state is a better place because of all the educators who work long hours, invest in their students’ lives, and pursue academic excellence. My admiration for education professionals has only grown over the last few years as I’ve watched my mother enter the profession and pour out her time and energy for her students. Teaching is truly a labor of love. Our team at Palmetto Promise salutes all the great teachers who serve South Carolina, and we hope to see their lives improved and SC students better served under the changes proposed in these bills.