South Carolina’s HB 3759 is a poison pill
by Susan E. Stutz
Arguably, there is one profession upon which every person in the United States relies: educators. Without them, very few decent paying career paths are possible — very few. Why then is it that we pay them so little? Tasked with the responsibility of shepherding our children through reading, writing, and arithmetic, one would like to think that our teachers are appreciated, respected, and compensated at a rate commensurate with the enormity of those responsibilities. The reality however, is at best, disappointing and at worst, appalling.
In South Carolina, legislators have embarked on a ambitious overhaul of their education system. House Bill 3759 (along with its companion, Senate Bill 0419), cosponsored by more than 100 legislators, includes proposals that range from jail time for school board members who fail to attend required trainings; replacement of teachers with uncertified lay-persons; and, raising starting teacher salaries to a whopping $35,000 per year.
If you are a new teacher in South Carolina and want to enjoy the fruits of your labor, your family had better have a second income or you need a roommate because life’s necessities are going to devour the roughly $28,500 that remains of your income after paying both state and federal taxes. The average rent for a studio apartment — you know, one of those one-room residences? — is over $1,000 per month with the average monthly utility bill at $140, which may or may not include water. You need food and its going to cost you about $125 per week. Unless you can count on mass transportation, you will also need a car and that’s going to cost you about $400-$500 per month. You also need car insurance, gas, and repair money. Additionally, even if you are reasonably healthy, you should probably have health insurance for life’s mishaps. Coverage will run about $300 per month for the second-lowest-priced Silver plan. Where does all of this leave you at the end of the month? In the hole. You haven’t driven to work, put clothes on your back, or made a payment on the student loans you took out to become a teacher in the first place, and you have an annual deficit of $680.
South Carolina legislators say they are advocating for salary increases, even going so far as to include language in the proposed Teacher Bill of Rights which states that teachers are entitled to a “salary commensurate with that of the recognized southeastern average salary of public school teachers with similar years of experience, educational degrees, and certification.” At $35,000 per year, South Carolina’s proposed salary is not even in the same universe with the average $58,000 annual salary of teachers nationwide much less commensurate with it.
The paltry $3,000 raise proposed by this legislation is woefully inadequate to say the least. It won’t provide teachers with a living wage. It won’t keep them from having to rely on public assistance just to make ends meet. And, it certainly doesn’t buy forgiveness for injurious portions of the bill such as that which would see teachers at failing schools lose their jobs despite having done their best.
When teachers don’t thrive, neither do our students. When there is a shortage of individuals entering the profession, the ones who most keenly feel the consequences are our children. Classrooms get more crowded and time for one-on-one help dwindles. And, fewer teachers in general means fewer teachers for students with physical and learning disabilities. When teachers lose, we all lose, in a really big way. If we believe that children really are the future, then education is the platform upon which they will succeed or fail — the choice is up to us.
What can you do?
With 124 co-sponsoring legislators, there is a solid chance that you live in one of their districts. Send state to Resistbot and encourage your Representative to support genuine living wages for our teachers. If you live elsewhere, write to your Representative and encourage them to support their colleagues. And, as always, you can write to Congress about this or any other topic by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to educate a politician.