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SC Education Superintendent Weaver Seeks $25M for Teachers’ Bonus Pay Program

This article by Seanna Adcox was published by the Post & Courier on January 31, 2023 (photo credit: Laura Bilson). COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s new superintendent for K-12 public education is seeking $25 million to launch a program that rewards teachers who raise student achievement in the state’s “highest-need” schools.

The proposal presented Jan. 31 by Superintendent Ellen Weaver would initially involve up to 125 schools getting about $200,000 each to boost teachers’ base salaries.

“Teacher quality is the most important in-school factor for a student’s success, and yet, strategically compensating the best educators in the highest-need schools is not something often done,” Weaver told a House Ways and Means panel.

“Highly effective educators willing to teach in the highest-need schools and districts would receive bonus compensation as well as incentives for moving the needle for students,” she continued, adding she’d report back on the pilot’s effectiveness before asking to expand it statewide.

It was Weaver’s first budget request to legislators since the Republican was sworn in three weeks ago.

It’s unclear how the performance pay would work or which schools would be eligible. She did not give details about the proposal during her presentation and did not answer reporters’ questions afterward.

The bonus pay is part of a $100 million “innovation fund” Weaver wants to create. Other pieces, to be awarded through an application process, would pay for teacher training, student tutoring and principal mentors.

Other parts of her request mirrored Gov. Henry McMaster’s budget recommendations for K-12 schools.

That included collectively providing districts $254 million toward increasing teachers’ minimum salaries by $2,500, which would bring the floor for a first-year teacher to $42,500. Districts already paying above state minimums would have leeway for how they spend that money.

She fully backed McMaster’s call for bringing that floor to at least $50,000 by 2026.

“I look forward to making that priority a reality,” she said.

She also echoed his request for $132.5 million to provide every teacher a $2,500 bonus split into two payments, at the middle and end of the coming school year, as an incentive to stay in the classroom. And she repeated McMaster’s request for a $2,000 bonus for bus drivers, at a total cost of $12 million.

“We must retain bus drivers to get children to and from schools,” Weaver said.

She also repeated the request of her predecessor, Molly Spearman, to spend $150 million in 2023-24 to continue the state’s efforts to help poor, rural school districts replace or overhaul dilapidated buildings.

About $200 million has been awarded so far. But addressing critical needs in the poorest districts will cost more than $1.5 billion, according to evaluations completed last year. And those tallies could be underestimated due to inflation.

“Our rural communities simply do not have the tax base or bonding capacity to repair or replace crumbling infrastructure,” Weaver said. “This request would allow the department to continue to knock out high-priority projects in the highest area of need.”

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