Ruta Elvikyte file photo

[image-1] The General Assembly will have to decide whether teachers receive their annual pay raise as part of their decision Wednesday on how to keep state government funded past July 1.

Lawmakers will convene Wednesday after halting mid session because of the growing coronavirus pandemic. According to the House Speaker Jay Lucas’ office, one of the main considerations will be a continuing resolution that will fund state government at the same levels as the 2019-2020 budget. A draft of the resolution is not available as of Tuesday, Lucas’ media liaison Nicolette Walters wrote in an email to the Charleston City Paper.

School organization groups sent a letter April 3 to leaders in the General Assembly asking for them to “pause” the 2 percent annual increase public school teachers receive, known as STEP increases. Directors from the state School Boards Association, Association of School Administrators, and Association of School Business Officials signed the letter.

The request comes just a month after the House passed a $10 billion budget that not only funded the annual increases but also a $3,000 pay increase for all teachers. Now, with the pandemic response squeezing state revenue, that budget is all but scrapped and will likely have to be reworked by legislators later in the year

The S.C. Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said funding the STEP increase will be up to the General Assembly. The letter from the school organization groups said STEP increases would come on the backs of school districts without additional money to fund them.

Attempts to contact House Ways and Means Chair Murrell Smith, House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford about the increases mandated by state law for teachers were unsuccessful.

[image-2] House Ways and Means Vice Chair Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D, Orangeburg) said she will not attend tomorrow’s meeting for the health of her and her family, bucking Gov. Henry McMaster’s Monday call for lawmakers to attend.

“But if they are talking about key STEP increases for teachers, I hope that there is also a conversation about pay raises for essential employees that are out there keeping things running while others are sheltering at home,” she said.

Schools are still not officially closed through the end of the year, and public school teachers are currently working on virtual lesson plans, according to SCforEd board member Dottie Adams of Columbia.

SCforEd released this statement to Statehouse Report, City Paper‘s sister publication:

“We acknowledge that the expectations from even a month ago no longer exist, and we know that adjustments need to be made. As 2020-2021 General Budget decisions are made, we understand that school districts would be put in a tough position to pay teacher salary steps and retirement contributions with 2019-2020 budget numbers. However, we are hopeful that the state recognizes the value of the most important resource in the education profession – teachers. Even during these unprecedented times, teachers are going above and beyond to do what’s best for students.”

The statement also said the group was “disheartened” that the decision may be made “without teacher input.”

On Thursday, the state’s Board of Economic Advisers will meet virtually to discuss the pandemic’s effect on state revenues — information that could be used at a later time to direct the state’s 2020-2021 budget.