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How South Carolina Teachers Make Ends

But none of their concerts on school grounds earn them as much on an hourly basis as Nephron, where they earn $ 21 an hour.

In interviews with almost a dozen black-and-white educators at the factory, teachers said the work did not use their skills, but offered money they could not refuse. Some talked about using the extra money to pay off a debt, pay a car or save for big trips that they always hoped to make. Others said it gave them a chance to put money in the bank, which they could not do by teaching alone.

"I would have never thought that in a million years, I would wear a hairnet and rubber gloves to work in this factory," said Heather Herndon, 56, a teacher of Kindergarten at the Rocky Creek Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina. using the extra money to start a nest egg for his retirement.

"I'm trying to take advantage of it, but some teachers are trying to work so hard at Nephron to increase their income that they are exhausted and can not really do their job. So, I am aware of that. "

South Carolina, like many other parts of the country, is trying to retain its teachers, largely because state legislators have resisted several attempts to give them substantial increases.

Members of the profession are almost unable to make a living, and by necessity, take on odd jobs after graduation: work in the factories, check tickets in concert halls or work in the retail trade. a little extra money.

"I love what I do, I've never had for money, but it was before I realized how many bills there are."

For Meredith Blackwood, who uses her Nephron money to repay the $ 15,000 that he and her husband have in student loans, being a teacher is about connecting with students, many of whom come from low-income families. She felt deeply connected to the 27 children of eight and nine years of her class this year. But his salary was a problem.

Meredith Blackwood works at Nephron Pharmaceuticals. Sean Rayford / for NBC News

"With what we do, there is not a lot of extra money," said Blackwood. "I love what I do, I've never had for money, but it was before I realized how many bills there are."

Small improvements in a state where wages are particularly low

In America, the teaching profession is in crisis.

Over the past year, overworked California educators in the Carolinas have organized mass protests for oversized classrooms, ruined textbooks, and inadequate salaries.

Their despair may be more evident in South Carolina, a state with a public school system that has consistently ranked among the poorest in the country.

The state also pays a low figure of $ 50,182 for the average teaching salary in 2017-2018 – about $ 10,000 below the national average – and an average starting salary that until recently was $ 33,148, according to the National Education Association, which represents more than 3 million teachers and professionals supporting education. Only three states pay new teachers less.

Teachers in South Carolina say that even with the low cost of living, pay is not enough, especially since it is lower than what neighboring states pay.

This has resulted in a shortage of teachers in the state.

More than 5,300 teachers left public schools in South Carolina before the 2018-2019 school year, while just over 1,640 graduated in teaching, according to the Center for Recruitment , Retention and Advancement of Educators, a nonprofit organization that aims to develop the teaching profession in the South. Carolina.

But there have been some small improvements this year.

In June, Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed a budget that increased the salary for beginning teachers to $ 35,000 and gave other teachers an increase of 4% or more. This amount, compared to last year's wages, would raise the starting salary of South Carolina from the fourth to the twelfth.

And lawmakers are working to make further reforms: in January 2019, Republican House Speaker Jay Lucas proposed a radical bill to change education policy in order to reduce the number of tests prescribed by the state, to engage a "czar" of education that would oversee the improvement of education at all levels and consolidate the smaller school districts of the State to allow them to spend more per student.

But some teachers say these are not the kinds of reforms they need. SC for Ed, a 30,000-member grassroots advocacy group, says it wants higher wages that are not jeopardized by higher health care costs; better working conditions, such as protected class planning time during school day and smaller classes; and more equity and funding at the state level, so that all school districts benefit.

"We are grateful that this has been resumed. We simply wish that there is a different process to involve teachers from the start, "said Dottie Adams, SC for Ed Board Member and Eighth-Year Science Professor in Colombia.

Lucas's bill was passed in the House but blocked in the state Senate. It should be resumed at the legislative session in January. Meanwhile, Lucas and Rita Allison, a Republican who will chair the state's Education Committee at the House, will meet with teachers to better understand what they need from the state, a spokesman said. Lucas.

Advocates hope they will explore more ways to reform the entire education system.

"Teachers and principals should have much more autonomy and flexibility to build schools the way they want to design the curriculum and spend budget resources, etc. We have systems that do not really allow that flexibility and innovation, "said Josh Bell, a former college teacher, who is now executive director of the Charleston Coalition for Kids, which elects school council members who will ensure the best results for students in Charleston, South Carolina.

"We're asking teachers to move mountains into their classrooms and develop a truly outstanding plan to meet the needs of students," said Bell, many of whom are far behind.

A story of not providing a "minimal" education

Experts claim that the state has experienced a troubled history in education, with problems dating back several centuries, beginning with the period when it deprived the education of black children because of anti-literacy laws passed during the era of slavery. Even today, the state fails with many black students: in 2017, the last year for which data was available, only 27% of Grade 8 students were considered proficient at reading, which included 37 % of white students but only 11%. of all black students, according to data from the Department of Education of South Carolina.

Similarly, in the same year, 26% of Grade 4 students in this state had a good knowledge of mathematics; 37% of all white students at this level were tested, while only 12% of blacks.

In 1999, the state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers were depriving poor rural school districts of "unsatisfactory education," an extremely low barrier for public schools. Although some changes have been made to pre-kindergarten, the state has done little to improve education as a whole, according to Jon Hale, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina, whose work Research focuses on the history of education.

The aftermath of the case was explored in a series published in 2018 by The Post and Courier in Charleston, which revealed that the refusal of state leaders to carry out educational reforms had led South Carolina's academic standards to continue slipping, while other troubled states, such as Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, revised and improved their schools.

The paper also revealed that one-third of South Carolina high school graduates were unprepared for most jobs, according to state test results. And some rural and poor districts, which are still suffering from underfunding for decades, do not even have a dozen graduates ready for their careers on all graduates.

Companies booming but not money for public schools

South Carolina stands out from some neighboring states, which do not have major industries to support public services, including education, that is the state of Palmetto is a business center. Its tourist sites bring in millions of dollars each year. And the state is home to large factories owned by some of the country's largest companies, including Boeing Co., Daimler and Mercedes-Benz.

But tax breaks that attract large corporations in South Carolina have cost the state's public schools $ 318.2 million a year, according to the Post and Courier.

Experts say that other financial factors have prevented South Carolina from improving its schools.

A 2006 law, Law 388, removes property ownership taxes for school operations that most states use to finance their schools, substituting a 1% tax on school house sales. But the calculation of the law, which came into force in 2007, when the housing crisis in the United States has proliferated, has not come to fruition.

"The sales tax does not sufficiently replace the property tax. The sales tax does not generate the hundreds of millions of dollars that it was supposed to generate, "Hale said.

In addition to funding problems, the state also has no right to collective bargaining for its teachers. In the absence of unions, Hale said that a "culture of fear, intimidation and silence" had invaded the profession.

"Teachers are fed up."

This has changed in recent months. On May 1, SC for Ed organized a rally based on walkouts across the country. Thousands of teachers in South Carolina marched to demand reforms of the state's education system.

Thousands of people gathered at the South Carolina Statehouse on May 1, 2019 for a rally calling on legislators to provide comprehensive funding to address classroom size, salary increases and teacher shortages, among other concerns of defenders, in Columbia, South Carolina.Christina Myers / AP file

"Teachers are fed up," said Lisa Ellis, a Columbia high school media and journalism teacher who has been teaching for 18 years and launched the SC for Ed Facebook group. "You are alone in the classroom and you are responsible for 18 to 30 human beings, which can be very painful. The Facebook group helped them realize that they are not alone and gave them the courage to express themselves. "

Committed at all costs to teach

Nephron Pharmaceuticals does not want to keep teachers away from the job. The Educator Program was created by the President and CEO of the drug manufacturer, Lou Kennedy, whose mother was a teacher; it limits the number of teaching hours of teachers to 40 per month. Kennedy said his goal was to show "how much we should respect teachers and how much they represent for us" and to show lawmakers that teachers needed more money and support.

Meredith and Chancen Blackwood of Lexington, South Carolina. The couple, both teachers, work at Nephron Pharmaceuticals after school and during breaks to earn extra income. Zack Bradley Photography

Despite the hardships of their jobs, the Blackwood do not intend to leave their profession. In the winter, Meredith Blackwood hopes to begin her master's degree, which, once completed, will increase her annual income by about $ 6,000 a year.

They have managed to stretch their incomes for the moment. Once they have repaid more student loans and mortgages on a startup home than they bought a few months ago, they wish to start a family.

In the meantime, the couple is doing everything in their power to reduce their debt. And Meredith Blackwood has never faltered in her commitment to her students.

"I feel like every day when I come to school, my students need me, whether or not I went to Nephron the night before. I know when I go to this building the next morning, they need me, "she said. "I like students. I do it for them and hope to have an impact on their lives. "

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