EDITORIAL: A Sleeping Giant


The scariest thing about the May 1 #SCforEd March on Columbia is the mobilization of South Carolina teachers.

Lawmakers are complaining about the temerity of leaving the plantation to participate in a MLK-style march for attention. It’s right there in the Bill of Rights - the redress of grievances. And, boy, do teachers in South Carolina have grievances!

The problem, lawmakers say, is HOW to redress those grievances. Former state lawmaker Mike Pitts said the marchers wearing red on May 1 shows they are communists. House Speaker Jay Lucas says they were led by “misinformation” - brought about by powerful, unnamed forces that make money by South Carolina being ranked 48th in the nation in public education.

District 56 Superintendent Dr. David O’Shields came up with the idea of local teachers wearing red, since that is the color of Clinton High School. That way, he said, teachers could “dress to express and ‘each one teach one’ about the role of civil protest and activism by staying in your class that day.”

In other words, “relax, we’re the government, we’re here to help.”

State Superintendent Molly Spearman was so moved by the mass protest that she skipped it. She went to sub in one of the state’s highest-performing schools on May 1 - we presume she was already on the sub list, or a friend already had scheduled May 1 for a “sick day” or a “professional development day” or some other kind of day. 

Gov. Henry McMaster says the teachers are just as “frustrated” as he is. Some other lawmakers walked outside the Statehouse and stood with the teachers (great photo-op). State Rep. Mark Willis ate lunch with teachers; he had the duty that day of introducing the state champion Laurens Academy Crusaders girls’ basketball team to the General Assembly. The newest member of the legislature was there, former Laurens County Councilman Stewart Jones, who was sworn into office (replacing Pitts) the day before in the House chamber in Columbia.

At least one school board member was marching. District 56 Trustee Tammy Stewart walked the picket line with her Ford Elementary, Laurens, colleagues. All the teachers should be proud - they made some great signs.

Now, they are all back in class. Now what?

“Education reform” might be dead for this year - OR the State Senate could pass it on the final day and flee Columbia for their homes, leaving the bureaucrats to sort it out. If it does not pass, starting teachers’ salaries will not increase to $35,000/annual and - just like now - the 4 or 5 teachers coming out of college will have just that much less incentive to teach in South Carolina. People looking to transition from another career into teaching still have that mechanism - but they’re second-class citizens in their schools. “I would never let my kids be taught by one of those,” some “in-the-know” parents say. 

On the plus side, if “education reform” does not pass, District 56 won’t have to pay out $180,000.

“Reform” would mean local districts doing what the state is required to do - give teachers a “step” salary increase for simply surviving another year. That’s always been a state function - “education reform” changes that, but does not loosen the state’s stranglehold on local taxation to pay for it. Many high-performing districts have the money, of course. In Greenville County, $180,000 is the superintendent’s lunch money. Others don’t have it, would have to borrow it, then get audited, and have the state wonder if the district should be classified as “at-risk,” financially.

Oh yes, “education reform” makes it easier for Superintendent Spearman to “deal with” failing school districts. Chances are good she won’t be subbing there.

Simply funding Public Education (and County-Municipal Governments, too, apparently) absolutely to the letter of existing state law appears to be out of the question. 

When in doubt, just change the law.

To counter-act this mentality, teachers are bound by state law not to form a union. But they can have an ally. In #SCforEd they seem to have found a powerful one. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have had this protest on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday - not only would that be symbolic, it’s a day off for schools, nobody would need a sub. It won’t work, though, the legislature’s not in session that day and, this year, “education reform” wasn’t a vote away from passing this past January.

Now, it is, and, when it does pass, teachers will be at their SmartBoards. Back in their place. Where they belong.


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