SC senators debate incentives for rural teachers

SC Senate Education subcommittee works on bills Tuesday to improve rural schools. (Photo: Robert Kittle/WBTW)

By Robert Kittle

(COLUMBIA, SC)

A state Senate Education subcommittee debated a resolution Tuesday aimed at finding out how to get more good teachers into rural schools. The resolution would survey all the education majors in state colleges and ask them whether they’ve ever considered teaching in a rural, economically disadvantaged school and what incentives would get them to teach in one.

James Moore, a USC student who plans to teach high school English, says he’s already considered teaching in a rural school, but incentives would still be a huge help. One idea is for the state to pay off teachers’ student loans if they work in rural schools. “I think that’s terrific,” he says. “I mean, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t feeling the crushing weight of debt right now as we’re speaking.”

Erin Haugaard, an Early Childhood Education major, says she’s also considered teaching in a rural school. “I think it would definitely take some incentive, just because where it’s at right now, the funding for teachers in rural districts isn’t very high compared to other areas. So I think that’s definitely something that needs to be worked on,” she says.

Incentives aren’t a cure-all, of course. Jasmine Johnson, who already has a job lined up this fall to teach 7th grade science at Northwest Middle School in Travelers Rest, says she thought about teaching in a rural district and decided against it. “I’m from a small town. I’m from a rural area, and just the toughness of teaching in areas like that was a lot for my first year and I just didn’t want to put that challenge on myself, actually,” she says.

The South Carolina Policy Council argues that incentives won’t help rural districts at all because they’ll attract just as many low-quality teachers as high-quality ones. But Carl Epps, the attorney who sued the state and won in the Abbeville case, about the state’s providing an inadequate education in rural districts, says incentives will help because they’ll give the districts more applicants.

“These districts don’t have any options. They have to hire whoever’s available. If you have different teachers available to you, then you can make a judgment as to which one is best for your students,” he says.

The Senate Education subcommittee did not take a vote on the resolution Tuesday but will discuss it again Wednesday afternoon.

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