Senate education bill adds 5 extra days for SC teachers

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina teachers would work an extra five days each year as long as lawmakers could find the money to pay them, under a change state senators made to an educational overhaul bill Thursday.

After months of work, the Senate Education Committee approved its version of a bill passed by the House earlier this year. The entire Senate is scheduled to debate the bill when it reconvenes on Jan. 14.

The South Carolina House already passed its version of a bill. The proposed legislation touches nearly every level of the school system, from pre-kindergarten to technical schools, and covers administrative issues ranging from standardized testing to how schools are run.

Thursday's debate showed there are no guarantees as to what will happen when the full Senate returns, however. Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree had warned previously that the 60-plus-page bill contained something for everyone to hate. On Thursday, a grassroots teachers organization repeated its call to scrap the entire bill and start over with more input from educators.

The biggest change to the bill on Thursday concerned teachers' schedules. Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey proposed the extra five days for teachers, saying he frequently hears them saying they need more time for such tasks as planning and grading.

“Let's have a few extra days for teachers throughout the year that can let them catch their breath,” said Massey, a Republican from Edgefield.

The amendment passed 7-6 after several senators wondered if other employees such as teaching assistants or cleaning or building maintenance staff would also be required to work the extra days.

The proposal also complicates plans by other state leaders to give teachers a raise for a second straight year. On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster and House Speaker Jay Lucas proposed a $3,000 a year , across- the-board raise for all the state's 53,000 teachers.

That would be a nearly 6% raise for a teacher making the state average of $53,000 a year. The extra five days would essentially cut that raise nearly in half.

“The governor and the House want to pay classroom teachers $3,000. The Senate wants to make classroom teachers work five more days. Do y'all want to answer that when we go back home?” said Senate President Harvey Peeler, a Republican from Gaffney.

Most of the senators who support the extra days said they hope the state can work out a raise that will pay teachers significantly more than just for the extra five days. State economists predict next year's budget will have an additional $1.8 billion, with about $800 million of that in extra taxes and fees that will likely be paid yearly from a growing state with a booming economy.

Senators discussed more than a dozen changes to their version of that House bill Thursday. Even more are expected when the bill makes it to the Senate floor.

Another change proposed by Massey and approved by the Senate committee would allow school to start on the second Monday in August instead of the third Monday. The goal is to let schools finish the first semester and exams before Christmas break. Currently schools finish that first semester in mid-January.

“I'm not sure we should put things in there that might keep the bill from advancing,” said Sen. Luke Rankin, a Republican from Horry County who has fought repeatedly throughout his 27-year term for a later school start date, in part to protect his area's tourism businesses.

Teacher group SC for Ed said it appreciated the Senate committee giving teachers five extra days to plan as long as they are paid and allowing the school year to start earlier. But in a statement they said the bill remains flawed.

Another amendment would add a teacher of the year to the state school board.

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