Long-awaited pay raises for South Carolina’s public school teachers and state employees could come this year under a revised state Senate spending plan that was adopted by the chamber’s budget-writing committee on Tuesday.
Under the change, senators want to spend about $72 million in annual dollars so that public school teachers could get a $1,000 pay raise on top of an annual pay bump based on education level and years of classroom experience.
The raise represents a more than 2% raise for teachers earning less than $50,000 a year.
State employees also would get their first 2% across-the-board raise since 2016 in the amended budget, expected to cost about $47.6 million. State workers who earn less than $70,000 a year last got a one-time bonus of $600 about two years ago.
The pay raises are meant to help attract and retain teachers and state employees — an effort that was hampered after the COVID-19 pandemic caused economic uncertainty, putting on hold any pay raises.
The state has worked to increase teacher pay as it was one of the lowest in the country. A planned $3,000 pay raise was put on hold last year because of COVID-19.
“While the complexity of the factors that contribute to the teacher shortage in our state can not be addressed by any single policy, any serious effort to enhance teacher retention in South Carolina must include pay increases to make salaries more competitive with those of teachers in neighboring states,” said the the Palmetto State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers group.
To pay for the raises, senators were able to dip into new dollars — about $1.7 billion worth — that state economists on April 8 estimated the state would get, weeks after the House approved its version of the Legislature’s now $10.6 billion spending plan.
The House passed its version of what was a $9.8 billion state spending plan last month. That plan did not fund many state agency requests. However, House budget writers said they expected to return to Columbia in the spring to address how additional money could be spent.
Aside from raises, the Senate Finance Committee also included $40 million in yearly spending to help keep tuition frozen at colleges and universities — a measure supported by the House.
“I would hope the higher education people would pay particular attention to this,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. “I don’t want to see any tuition increase this year.”
This year, state lawmakers also will have to decide how to spend $525 million stemming from the Savannah River Site settlement and $2.1 billion of federal one-time stimulus money through the American Rescue Plan meant for COVID-19 expenses.
Those decisions may not come until the fall.
Senate spending plan highlights
▪ $100 million for instructional materials
▪ $3.7 million state museum renovations
▪ $15 million for the Sumter Opera House
▪ $19 million for the Greenville Arts Museum/Convention Center
▪ $234 million for maintenance, renovation and replacement at colleges and universities
▪ $50 million for veterans nursing homes in Sumter and Horry counties
▪ $21.5 million for welcome center renovations
▪ $12 million for downtown Spartanburg infrastructure
▪ $10 million for broadband internet
▪ $2 million for the Mother Emanuel Foundation for capital infrastructure for a memorial
▪ $40 million for rest area renovations