More than 10 percent of South Carolina’s teachers left their jobs during or at the end of the most recent school year. More than 45 percent of those departing had spent less than five years in the classroom.
A turnover rate that high can seriously hurt students and create financial and administrative burdens for school districts.
With that in mind, state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman recently asked a legislative budget committee to analyze the possibility of boosting teacher salaries. Ms. Spearman requested that starting teachers and those closer to retirement be especially considered for higher pay.
It’s certainly a recommendation worth considering.
South Carolina currently pays teachers slightly better than the Southeast average across their careers, but ranks just 38th nationwide. The average starting salary of $32,306 is on the low end.
Given South Carolina’s well-documented public education shortcomings — recently driven home by a state Supreme Court decision 20 years in the making — the state would do well to pay its teachers a good bit more.
After all, quality teachers are essential to improving educational outcomes. Competitive pay is important to attract bright young minds to the field and even more important to keep them there.
It’s also a disservice to the longest serving teachers to allow their pay to effectively decrease in the face of mounting health insurance premiums and other expenses. Some state school districts end stepped salary increases after just 22 years on the job.
Fortunately, tri-county school districts generally pay their teachers better than the state average.
But other school districts simply can’t afford that luxury. Any increase in salaries, particularly for new teachers, should include substantial bonuses for well-qualified teachers who work in underserved rural schools.
A statewide salary increase could also reasonably include greater leverage for schools and districts to weed out consistently underperforming teachers.
All of this will, of course, require serious consideration to determine its financial feasibility for the state. But quality teachers are unquestionably a sound investment.
Some studies have shown that even one year with an excellent teacher can increase a student’s lifetime earnings by as much as $20,000. Over the course of a career, one outstanding teacher can generate millions in future wealth for South Carolina and its residents.
In that sense, the best teachers are priceless. Their salaries ought to more closely reflect that reality.