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'There is a pending crisis:' How will SC keep its teachers?

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - We've seen protests across the country with teachers abandoning their classrooms and protesting their pay. And in South Carolina, lawmakers say a teacher crisis is pending.

The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement says nearly 8 percent of (more than 6,000) teachers didn't return to the classroom last year. Former teacher Nicole Skeen says schools need to keep the teachers they already have.

"It's like having a lake with a dam and there's a crack in the dam. Recruitment is pouring water into the lake to try to fill it back up. Until we plug the hole of the teachers leaving the profession, we'll continue to have a teacher shortage," says Skeen.

More than 7,000 teachers could quit this June, when the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive program ends. It aims to keep teachers beyond retirement age.

"Teaching can be very difficult. You've got 30 children with different personalities, a lot of accountability," says Skeen. "It's important that we offer teachers the support they need in order to serve our students because that's our main goal."

Skeen left the classroom and started the CarolinaTIP program, which provides three years of support to teachers after graduation at U.S.C. First-year middle school teacher Alexis Deese-Smith is part of that program.

"The more we have programs nurturing not only the professional needs, but emotional needs, the more teachers, schools and students are gonna be able to thrive," says Deese-Smith. "Teachers were drawn to this profession because they have a gift. They have something about them that kids need."

While efforts like CarolinaTIP aim to recruit and retain teachers, Sen. Jackson says lawmakers need to do more. Right now, the starting salary for teaching in South Carolina is $33,000. Recently, the Senate fully funded a 3 percent teacher pay raise. They also approved a bill that would pay teachers for annual and sick leave beyond 90 days.

"Hopefully things will be better. We're going to work hard to make sure that they are," says Jackson. "Teachers touched my life and quite honestly transformed my life. So I owe them and I will always fight for teachers."

CarolinaTIP is just one of several programs created to recruit and retain teachers:

  • There is also the Good Neighbor Next Door Program, which offers a 50 percent discount from the list price of a home. In return, pre-K through 12-grade teachers must must commit to live in the home for three years.
  • The S.C. Teacher's Loan erases student debt up to $35,000 if the graduate teaches in a critical geographical area, critical subject area or in a district with high turnover rates.
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