The S.C. Department of Education launched a half-million-dollar ad blitz last week to dispel some doom and gloom about public schools and to entice more people to become teachers.
In a state that often goes toe to toe with Alabama and Mississippi for worst-in-the-nation rankings on measures of academic success, the ad campaign's claims are modest.
One 15-second spot begins with a clattering keyboard as text appears on the screen: "South Carolina SAT scores are ..."
"Oh, boy, yeah, I can see where this one's going," a male voiceover says.
Then comes the twist: "... well above the national average."
And it's true, South Carolina students notched an average composite score of 1058 in the 2016-17 school year, beating the national average of 1044. On the other hand, that score still put South Carolina in 34th place nationwide.
The "Dedication to Education" campaign went live last week with television commercials in every market across the state, according to department spokesman Ryan Brown. He said the agency bought ad time for a month, and TV broadcasters agreed to match those ad purchases by airing the segments as public service announcements at times of their choosing.
The state agency also bought ads on YouTube and on social media, where it features short testimonials by standout educators from across the state.
The agency has spent about $500,000 to date from its existing budget, Brown said. The agency hired Chernoff Newman to create the campaign.
The ads air as schools across the state struggle with a worsening teacher shortage, caused in part by fewer young people majoring in education.
"We have some ways to go to improve, but we do have some positive things we wanted to share," Brown said. "No young people and no career changers are going to go into the profession when we get beaten up for this and that."
Ashley Landess, president of the limited-government advocacy group S.C. Policy Council, questioned if the campaign was a wise use of taxpayer dollars, particularly if the target is future educators.
"It seems to me this is hardly the most effective way to do that, much less the most efficient and inexpensive," she said.
Education Superintendent Molly Spearman is up for re-election in November, when she will face Democrat Israel Romero. She has no challengers in the Republican primary. Brown said the department waited until after the filing period ended on March 30 before running the ads. He said the ads have nothing to do with her re-election campaign.
"We didn’t want there to be any viewpoint that there was a political drive behind it," he said.
The department is not alone in paying for branding, advertising or recruitment campaigns.
The S.C. Department of Agriculture has paid Chernoff Newman millions of dollars for its Certified SC Grown campaign, which launched in 2007 and encourages South Carolinians to buy food grown in their own state.
Faced with a staffing crisis, the S.C. Department of Corrections bought newspaper ads, billboards and radio spots in 2016, and even expanded its recruiting to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year.
Brown said the Department of Education's advertising campaign has several phases. He said the department has not yet decided how much money it will spend on future ads, which will be more targeted toward prospective teachers.
"We’ll do some polling to see if we’ve moved the needle at all," he said. "If it turns out to be successful, we’ll see."