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S.C. teachers advocacy group expresses concern over ‘massive’ vacancies

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 10:10 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - The start of the new school year in South Carolina is just about a month away.

With that day coming fast, teachers are worried about the number of teacher vacancies in the state right now.

A teacher’s advocacy group estimates about 2,000 open teacher positions across the state.

SCforEd, the teacher’s group, says they counted the number of vacancies on the school districts’ website to come to that number.

WBTV reached out to the state to check how accurate that number is.

The Department of Education says school vacancy numbers do not come out until the beginning of the school year, but state records from the SC school report card, which collects data at the beginning of summer, say there were more than 53,000 teachers in the state going into the summer.

That is compared to the more than 55,000 that started at the beginning of the school year, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement, which collects data at the beginning of the school year.

The state has reported an increase in vacancies over last year where 143 extra positions remained unfilled between 2019 and 2020. In total, close to 700 remained unfilled by the beginning of the year. Katherine Harris, who works as a teacher in Fort Mill says it is a dangerous trend.

“Our number one concern has always been to get a certified, expert-level teacher into every classroom,” says Harris. “It’s looking like that’s not the case when we’re fighting a deficit of 2,000 right now.”

WBTV checked with all seven of the Palmetto state’s school districts in our viewing area.

Of the five of our seven South Carolina districts that answered, there are currently 60 open positions spread out across our area with the most being in Rock Hill schools and the least in Clover School District.

”I know the importance of teachers and what they mean to the classroom,” says Sarah Daniel, a mom of two kids in the public school system.

Daniel’s first-hand experience comes from her daughter needing extra help in the classroom. Her daughter has her own education plan with a special needs teacher.

”She definitely needs a lot of work and a lot of love. She needs a lot of love in the classroom,” says Daniel.

Daniel’s daughter is switching schools next year. She says it is because her current school does not have a teacher who can help with her specific needs anymore.

”She’s going to a whole different school where she doesn’t know the teachers, she doesn’t know the children, she doesn’t know anything,” she says.

Those vacancies are just one thing teachers are concerned with right now.

”This is alarming,” says Harris. “This is a very big concern that will impact directly parents and students.”

Harris says low pay is the number one concern.

Teachers feel like they are not getting paid enough to do the work they are doing, sometimes not only inside the classroom but also out of it. They also feel like they are using a lot of the money to get supply needs for their classrooms.

COVID has also shown that teachers do not have a lot of decision-making power in subjects they are experts on. Harris says when it comes to certain subjects like test-taking and what is needed in the classrooms, the decisions are often made for them with no regard of how teachers feel. This was especially true when teachers were forced back into the classroom without vaccines, according to Harris.

”In the past, when the love of the job has won out more, this past year has really made that a difficult decision for teachers,” says Harris.

But Harris says the state is at a turning point where teacher shortages need to be a much bigger discussion.

”We’ve always known we’ve had a teacher’s shortage but it’s getting to that crucial point if we don’t do something soon to fix this problem we’re gonna have a major problem in South Carolina,” she says.

A problem Daniel says her daughter just cannot afford.

”I hope that they get those positions filled,” says Daniels.

Teachers are getting a pay bump going into the next school year. In the latest state budget, teachers received their annual step increase for the 2020-21 school year, something that was cut last year because of COVID, and a $1,000 raise for the upcoming school year.

WBTV reached out for comment from the Department of Education. Superintendent Molly Spearman’s office says, “Now is the time for state and local leaders to come together for current and future educators by supporting financial incentives, policies, and programs that will help ensure we have a strong, high-quality teacher workforce serving our students for years to come.”

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