South Carolina leaders have neglected a generation of our state’s kids, but to Gov. Henry McMaster, it’s the teachers’ May 1 protest that apparently “sends the wrong message.”

It’s the same story every year. Reforms are floated, critics are placated, and teachers are tossed token thanks from their elected officials who go on to do little to help them.

So it’s a bit surprising that S.C. leaders like McMaster have the nerve to call out teachers that have sat around waiting for them to do their jobs for years.

But just as they’ve abandoned their duty to steer the state’s schools, it’s probably no surprise that entrenched leaders in Columbia are once again abandoning them today.

Some S.C. substitute teachers declined requests to step in today to relieve teachers, standing in solidarity with their fellow educators who have been walked over for their entire careers.

But not State Superintendent Molly Spearman — she has said she “cannot support teachers walking out on their obligations,” defiantly serving as a substitute in the Midlands.

In union states where organizing is not vilified, people who cross picket lines and destabilize the collective voice of workers seeking action are called scabs.

Jim Rex, the state’s last Democratic state superintendent, told the Post and Courier that Spearman’s statement was a product of “poor wording.”

“It’s not surprising to me teachers are making this step,” Rex told P&C. “It’s only surprising they haven’t done it earlier.”

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The thing is, every day that passes without education reform, it’s easier for these guys to get away with it. (Let’s face it, they’re mostly guys.) If you ignore a generational problem long enough, it’s never one person’s fault. It’s not even a decade of politicians’ faults. Hell, we keep re-electing most of these jokers, so it may even be a little bit of our own faults.

McMaster has been a perennial figure in Columbia politics for more than 25 years, 10 of which he worked setting the Republican agenda as the chairman of the state party. His tenure culminated in the GOP takeover of the legislature in 2000, a majority that has stuck since then.

House Speaker Jay Lucas has been in the legislature since 1999. Today, he said the “walkout,” as the protest has been derided by critics, “doesn’t help our ability to get support on the issue,” calling the cause “spun” by “misinformation.” By all accounts, Lucas does seem genuinely invested in getting reform done and the House did finally pass an education reform bill in March.

[pullquote-1] Yes, politicians have had hearings and hearings and hearings (they’re very good at those), but as of today, with a week left in the legislative session, it looks like very little will be done to help teachers until (at least) 2020.

Of course, supporting teachers’ right to exercise their voice and insisting on immediate comprehensive education reform are not mutually exclusive.

Like many other leaders, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston indicated support for teachers, lauding their patience as proposals were debated in Columbia. Nonetheless, on Monday he tweeted, “I’ll be with them on May 1st!”

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With 10,000 people marching in Columbia today, it seems that education advocates’ patience has finally run out. The question is, when can we expect the same determination from our elected officials?

Sam Spence is the editor of the Charleston City Paper.