AP NEWS

Thousands of South Carolina teachers hold school day rally

May 1, 2019
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An education advocate holds a sign during a Teacher rally Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, in Columbia, S.C. Some state officials have criticized teachers for leaving their classrooms. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Thousands of teachers and supporters rallied Wednesday at the South Carolina Statehouse, demanding more funds to reduce classroom sizes, solve a teacher shortage, hire school counselors and raise educators’ pay.

A similar rally was held in North Carolina.

The rally — called #ALLOutMay1 — prompted at least seven school districts to close because so many teachers asked for the day off. Some district officials said they couldn’t muster enough substitutes and administrators to guarantee student safety.

The rally organized by the online teacher group SC for Ed brought over 10,000 supporters to the Statehouse grounds, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. The grassroots group that started on Facebook has put pressure on lawmakers to change a massive bill that would overhaul the state’s education system.

“I know this decision to leave your students today was difficult, but I know the decision you made is because of the love you have for your students,” said Lisa Ellis, a teacher and founder of SC for Ed.

Organizers said the rally was aimed at reminding the legislature of what’s important to educators. They said their mission goes beyond just teacher raises and includes funding equity across the state. The group has put pressure on lawmakers to change the education overhaul bill that likely won’t pass this year.

“There’s ... another year for them to step up and do what’s right for the state of South Carolina,” Ellis said. “This is just the beginning. Either join us or move out of our way.”

The House passed its version of the 84-page bill in March. It would create a student ‘bill of rights’ and a new Zero to Twenty Committee that would oversee education from pre-kindergarten to universities. Those provisions were taken out by members of the Senate education committee.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree has said while there is not enough time to fully debate the bill before the legislative session ends May 9, lawmakers will continue discussing education in the coming months.

“This decision to work over the offseason was a bipartisan decision,” said the Little River Republican, who was substitute teaching at a Myrtle Beach middle school Wednesday. “We’ve been working at this a long time in South Carolina. It’s a very dynamic thing.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said education must be a top priority and suggested legislators return to work on the issue after the session ends.

“The Senate has failed to act. That is not good,” McMaster said in an interview with the Associated Press. “The Senate must act because we must have major education reform this calendar year.”

McMaster said he found the teachers’ voices “instructive” and he hoped the state Senate was also listening. Loud chants could be heard inside the walls of McMaster’s statehouse office.

As the rally came to an end, several advocates remained on the grounds, speaking to lawmakers.

“Seeing over 10,000 people supporting and entrusting you to do what is best for students in South Carolina is humbling,” Ellis said.

“I know that they (lawmakers) are listening to us, but I hope that they are hearing us,” Ellis said.