Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Post and Courier. March 13, 2023.

Editorial: SC budget plan finally delivers $50K starting pay — but not for teachers

The idea of “defunding police” was never taken seriously in South Carolina. Although activists in Charleston and a few other cities called for such a move, it was dismissed out of hand. At the Statehouse, it was never even considered — and not just because Republicans so overwhelmingly dominate state government. Democrats didn’t propose it.

So any suggestion that S.C. Republicans are pushing back against a defunding movement in favor of super-funding police in next year’s state budget has more to do with political posturing than reality. What House budget writers are actually doing is taking important steps to make it easier for SLED, the Highway Patrol and other state police agencies to fill vacancies, which in turn is forcing local police agencies throughout the state to increase their salaries to compete for officers. And all that is making it more likely that we will increase the caliber of police at both the state and local levels.

It’s a sensible idea that should appeal to law-and-order types as well as people who are concerned that we have too many cops in South Carolina who shouldn’t be cops.

As the police chief in the tiny Hampton County town of Estill, Chauncey Solomon, told The Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox: “If you pay your officers well, not only are you going to get officers, you get well-qualified officers. When you don’t pay well, that’s when you get officers who are more likely to get into not-so-good things. You get what you pay for.”

But raising the starting salary for state law enforcement officers to a minimum of $50,000 raises an obvious question: What about teachers?

If that $50,000 starting salary sounds familiar, that’s because it’s identical to the goal Gov. Henry McMaster has set and legislative leaders have embraced for starting pay for teachers — by 2026. Next year, under the Ways and Means Committee budget proposal the House is debating this week, the minimum pay for first-year teachers will go up $2,500, to $42,500.

Like police, teachers are essential to a well-functioning society. As with law enforcement, we have underpaid teachers so much and for so long that we have a deepening shortage, with officials increasingly coming up short on enough bodies to fill the positions. As with law enforcement, teachers are leaving the profession for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the pay — but low pay makes it a lot easier for them to move on.

Budget writers brag that this year’s salary increase for teachers represents a 33% raise for beginning teachers over six years — which is really impressive. Until you compare it to the starting pay for state police. Lawmakers increased the pay for law enforcement officers by an average of 15% last year, and are proposing another 15% this year. SLED salaries went up 31% last year and are set to go up another 15% next year, to a minimum of $58,000 — which is about $3,000 more than the average pay for all teachers will be next year.

This massive difference in pay comes in spite of another thing teachers have in common with law enforcement: If you make do without enough people or with people who aren’t up to the job, the consequences can be devastating; they might not be life-ending, but they certainly can be life-altering — and not in a good way.

As appreciative as most teachers are that the Legislature finally seems committed to increasing their salaries, it’ll be difficult for them not to get the message that our lawmakers consider police to be much more important than teachers.

If you’re a budget writer, the reason for this discrepancy is easy: The state law enforcement workforce is only a small fraction the size of the state’s teacher corps, so it takes a lot less money to raise police pay to $50,000 than to do the same for teachers: $30 million for police compared to about $1 billion for teachers.

That’s essentially the same reason lawmakers gave huge pay raises to statewide elected officers and huge backdoor raises to judges — even though we have no trouble filling those positions, for which people spend huge amounts of money and time campaigning — while doing little to nothing to raise pay for teachers, law enforcement, social workers, dam inspectors, nurses, mental health counselors and other critical positions for which we couldn’t find enough people to do the job.

But simply because it’s easier to raise pay for a smaller group of workers doesn’t mean it’s smart policy. What it means — particularly until they come up with other ways to convince teachers to stay in the classroom — is that lawmakers need to work harder to figure out a way to raise teachers’ pay faster.


Times and Democrat. March 9, 2023.

Editorial: Awareness of weather applies to fire

Their convergence means calling attention to three important matters: severe weather, wildfires and prescribed burns.

This week as proclaimed by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster is Severe Weather Awareness Week, a time to provide information and resources to residents on combating extreme weather. The week comes at a time when the climate is changing from cold to warm as spring nears. Weather experts sometime call this the “mean season” for tornadoes and other extreme weather.

But this week’s weather warnings have pertained to another danger: wildfires.

With low relative humidity and high wind speeds across the state, the South Carolina Forestry Commission has encouraged the public to exercise the utmost vigilance when conducting outdoor burns of any kind.

These conditions create a greater-than-average potential for outdoor fires to escape easily and spread rapidly, taking longer – and more firefighting resources – to contain and ultimately control.

“We’ve had several dry days and have seen wildfire ignitions begin to increase,” SCFC Fire Chief Darryl Jones said Monday. “With the dry front passing through, there will be an increased risk from conducting debris burns and prescribed burns until conditions begin to improve later this week. If you don’t have to burn over the next several days, please consider postponing burning.”

The danger from wildfire may have been elevated for a just a few days, but it is very real all the time in a state such as South Carolina with major forest acreage.

That’s why even as there are warnings about fire, there is continuing advice for landowners to take action to prevent fire damage.

McMaster has proclaimed March 2023 Prescribed Fire Awareness Month in South Carolina.

A coalition of state, federal and non-governmental land management organizations under the umbrella of the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council requested the proclamation to raise awareness of the essential role that fire plays in both the stewardship of our natural resources and the protection of lives and property.

Prescribed, or controlled, burning is the skilled application of fire under planned weather and fuel conditions to achieve specific forest and land management objectives. Controlled burning is an ancient practice, notably used by Native Americans for crop management, insect and pest control, and hunting habitat improvement, among other purposes.

The practice continues today under the direction of land managers who understand the appropriate weather conditions, fuel loads and atmospheric conditions for conducting such burns. These carefully applied fires are an important tool to reduce wildfires, enhance wildlife habitat, and keep the nearly 13 million acres of forested land in South Carolina healthy and productive.

While prescribed burning cannot stop all wildfires, it is the best management tool available for preventing larger and more frequent outbreaks.

“Prescribed burning is not only the most effective, economical protection against wildfires because it reduces accumulated fuels,” said McMaster in his proclamation, “but it is also a key tool in managing and maintaining the ecological integrity of South Carolina’s woodlands, grasslands, agricultural areas and wildlife habitats.”

Darryl Jones, SCFC Forest Protection Chief, said about 500,000 acres are prescribed-burned every year in South Carolina – most of them on private land – but at least 1 million acres should be burned annually.

Prescribed fire does not remove all risk of wildfires from a forest, but the chances of major damage are greatly reduced. The need for caution with fire at all times remains. As does the need for awareness of weather and what it means for the risk of blazes – and other severe conditions.