The teacher shortage isn't the only reason that raising teachers' salaries to at least match the average of other Southeastern states is high on South Carolina's legislative agenda.
There's also the paradoxical fact that not raising the salaries might cost the state even more in the long run. Here's why: To plug the teacher shortage in the short term the Legislature two years ago authorized school districts to offer top dollar to retired teachers to return to the classroom full time - while letting them continue to collect all their retirement benefits.
The policy even urges teachers to retire early so they can get in on the bonanza. The only caveat is that retirees can only take advantage of the program for five years. But if teachers are still scarce then, who's to say the General Assembly wouldn't extend it?
The point, of course, is that over time it will be more expensive to continue paying for high-salaried retirees and benefits than to raise salaries enough to attract younger teachers to the state.
Also what could the General Assembly have been thinking when it decided to let teachers retire with full benefits after only 28 years? As we understand it, lawmakers thought they'd save big bucks for taxpayers by shooing out old-timers at the top end of the wage scale and replacing them with bottom-of-the-wage scale freshman teachers.
Now it seems they were being penny wise and pound foolish. It isn't a good idea, either, to encourage the premature retirement of experienced teachers just to save money, especially not when students' grades are at the bottom of the pit nationally.
The Palmetto State's teacher wage policy, designed to save money, is actually costing money - while simultaneously discouraging young teachers from going to the state. This schizophrenia may take a little more to fix than just tinkering at the margins.