COLUMBIA, S.C. — Teachers from around the state of South Carolina came to Columbia Wednesday to demand, among other things, better pay and smaller class sizes during a rally at the capitol.
The rally, known as #AllOutMay1, was held on the front steps of the State House and is organized by a group known as SC for Ed, an education advocacy group. The South Carolina Department of Public Safety tweeted just after 10:30 a.m. that an estimated 10,000 people showed up.
The event began with a smaller rally and a march from the South Carolina Department of Education’s headquarters, about two blocks from the capitol complex, and ended up on the front steps on the Gervais Street side of the State House.
The teachers waved signs and chanting slogans. At one point, they yelled "where's Molly," a reference to State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman.
But at least on the day of the event, lawmakers did not take any action. The House adjourned for the day Wednesday without discussing any education proposals.
The rally has led to multiple school districts in the state canceling classes in the state, including four districts in the Midlands. And it’s caused some split in public opinion, at least based on social media reaction, with some in the community supporting the goals of the rally, while others are questioning the need for the effort and the disruption it may cause.
What do the teachers want?
SC for Ed and teachers who are members say they want more state funding to improve the overall quality of education. But more specifically, here are a few key goals:
The organization says they appreciate the legislators raising the starting salary for first year teachers and offering up to a 4 percent salary increase for other educators. However, because the base student cost was not increased, districts will have trouble meeting their obligations.
The teachers want a 10 percent raise.
School counselors/support staff:
SC for Ed says they would also like to employ enough school counselors and mental health care professionals to meet recommended ratios.
The organization also says lawmakers aren't doing enough to recruit and retain teachers. They say over 5,000 teachers left their jobs last year and are no longer teaching in South Carolina public schools.
Reduce class sizes:
SC for Ed says in order to lower class sizes, districts have to be able to hire more teachers.
"Yes you have to have a calling to be a teacher, but people use it as an excuse to take advantage of us and say, 'Oh they have a great heart'. I want them to see us as educated, trained professionals just like they are," said one teacher from Laurens High School in Laurens, South Carolina.
"Inherently, we are just inundated with the belief that we need to give up and sacrifice every single thing for our students. While we are happy to provide for our students, this state needs to stand up for us and give us exactly what we need because we are bending over backwards for our students and it's still not enough," said South Carolina teacher, Alexis Shepard.
What does the governor/education superintendent say?
A spokesman for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said last week that holding the teacher rally on a school day sends the wrong message.
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes says the governor thinks the rally will unnecessarily disrupt schools and the schedules of working parents and send the wrong message to students.
Education Superintendent Molly Spearman agreed.
"I support teachers using their voice to advocate for needed change and share in their commitment to ensuring reforms become reality," Spearman said in part. "However, I cannot support teachers walking out on their obligations to South Carolina students, families, and the thousands of hardworking bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors, aides, and custodial staff whose livelihoods depend on our schools being operational."
Spearman said she would serve as a substitute teacher at a local school Wednesday.
Which schools were closed?
- Colleton County
- Chester County
- Dorchester County
- Lexington-Richland 5
- Richland 1
- Richland 2
- Sumter School District
Some of the districts still plan to serve lunch to students, even though there's no class. For more details on their plans, click here.
All other Midlands school districts say they plan to operate on a normal schedule.