Teachers in South Carolina are taking May 1 off to march to the state capitol to demand better pay, smaller classroom sizes and better working conditions.
The protest in Columbia, South Carolina will occur on the same day thousands of North Carolina teachers take to the streets of downtown Raleigh to make similar demands for increased public school funding and the restoration of certain teacher benefits.
“We were inspired very much by what we saw happening in our sister state of North Carolina, what we saw happening in West Virginia,” said Robin Bowman, a special education teacher in Florence, South Carolina who represents the Pee Dee area for protest organizer, SC for Ed. “We were inspired and wanted the same change for our state.”
The SC for Ed movement was founded less than a year ago, and organizers looked to North Carolina educators for advice and guidance.
But while North Carolina teachers announced plans for a march and rally a couple months ago, it wasn’t until this past weekend that SC for Red asked teachers to take the day off.
Bowman, a founding member of SC for Ed, said the call to protest came after months of lobbying lawmakers, followed by disappointed and despair as the state’s budget wrangling comes to a close.
“We waited until the very last budget debate, literally sitting in front of computers, and were stunned to see amendments that we begged for on class size be tabled,” Bowman said. “We were stunned because our legislators appeared to be so sympathetic to our cause.”
She said SC for Ed is grateful that lawmakers have agreed to a 4 percent pay raise and an increase in starting teacher pay to $35,000 a year.
But she noted the most recent version of the state budget strips $18 per student from the state’s per pupil spending allotment.
“We gave the General Assembly every chance that we could give them to do the honorable thing, to do the things they said they were going to do,” Bowman said. “We thought we had be given a seat at the table.”
South Carolina hasn’t enforced its size limits on most public school classrooms since 2010 due to funding issues caused by the Great Recession.
Bowman said educators thought once the economy improved, restrictions on the number of students allowed in classrooms would be enforced again.
“The proviso on class size was put into play when the recession hit,” Bowman said. “Now that we’re post-recession we thought we would see full funding come back and appropriate class size return.”
Here is part of a statement teachers posted on their SC for Ed Facebook page that sums up their frustration:
“For over a decade educators in this state have been continuously pushed aside and neglected as we give our best to the students we love so dearly including: the clothes off our backs, the money in our wallets, the love in our hearts, and the tears in our eyes.”
Because the protest in South Carolina was announced over the weekend, it’s difficult to gauge how many teachers will show up for the event. According to published reports, about 400 teachers had signed up as of late Monday.
Compare that to North Carolina where more than 20 school districts have decided to close May 1 because thousands of teachers have requested a personal day to attend the march and rally.
Last year, more than 19,000 educators and supporters filled the streets of downtown Raleigh to demand better pay and increased funding for public schools but organizers expect many more on May 1.
North Carolina teachers’ demands include:
- Additional funding to adequately staff schools with psychologists, social worker, nurses and librarians.
- Restoration of extra pay for advanced degrees.
- Increasing the minimum wage for all school personnel to $15 an hour and a 5 percent cost of living raise for school employees and retirees.
- Expansion of Medicaid to improve the health of students and their families.
- Restoration of retiree health benefits for teachers hired after 2021.