COLUMBIA - South Carolina's schools are facing a potential shortfall of teachers as the number of education professionals retiring increases.

South Carolina Education Oversight Committee Executive Director Melanie Barton sounded a preliminary alarm on May 19, when she voiced concern over the number of teachers hired compared with the number who have left the system.

The state hired 2 percent more teachers in 2013 than 2012, according to the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. But that's much less than the 20 percent increase in teacher hires between 2011 and 2012.

Further, the number of teachers retiring has started to creep back up. In 2013, 9 percent more teachers retired than in 2012. And in 2012, 7 percent more teachers retired than in 2011.

"If we're not careful, we can have a problem," said Barton. "The pipeline for new hires might not be enough."

Barton said one of the many issues education is facing in recruiting is that there's not really a big push in getting people interested in teaching. It seemed like prior to the recession, people thought teaching was a career that was recession-proof. Back then, for every three teachers leaving, four were hired.

But between 2009 and 2010, fewer teachers were hired and fewer retired. And as the economy has improved, retiree numbers have started to go back up, but hiring numbers have not as much, she said.

Another reason why people may not be interested in becoming educators is the ever-increasing responsibility being placed on teachers, said Molly Spearman, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.

"We need to talk more about parent responsibility," Spearman said. "I think we need to make sure that we're fair to our teachers and balance what we expect of them."

Districts have been forced to search for teachers outside of South Carolina in the past, but it costs to recruit them. And it's hard to convince someone to go into teaching when they look at pay scales, Spearman added.

That's where incentives kick in.

South Carolina has several programs geared toward encouraging students to become teachers, such as the Teaching Fellows Program and the Call Me MISTER initiative. Both programs help pay for the student's college, and the bills are later forgiven when they enter the system and teach for a certain number of years.

What concerns Barton is that the programs are not widely known. And the number of applicants for the Teaching Fellow Program, for example, is not going back up following the recession, she said.

Plus the problem goes beyond recruiting teachers; it's also about keeping them once they're hired, said Frances Welch, Dean of the School of Education at the College of Charleston.

"Most folks don't think about that," she said. "That's the bigger problem because it costs a lot of money for the individual and the system to educate teachers."

There are also other areas of need in schools, such as getting more minorities and men into the field, more math and science teachers, and more middle and high school teachers, Welch said.

But it's getting teachers interested in teaching in rural districts that concerns Barton the most. Students who come from rural areas don't necessarily want to return, Barton said. She called those districts "critical geographic need areas" that must be targeted for marketing programs that will recruit students who understand their area and will want to return home because of family ties.

Welch said most students who attend the College of Charleston stay within the area after they graduate. To fix many of those issues, Spearman said the profession has to be elevated to the point that it's highly respected. In the meantime, preparing those who are already studying education is very important, she said.

"It's just very shocking for young teachers when they come out," Spearman said. "It's a hard job."

Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.