Teacher group SC for Ed suspends its advocacy efforts, citing burnout

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Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 8:59 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Grassroots teacher advocacy group SC for Ed announced on Monday that it will “indefinitely pause” its advocacy efforts, citing burnout.

SC for Ed was founded in 2018 by former Democratic candidate for State Superintendent of Education Lisa Ellis.

It is comprised of volunteer teachers.

In May 2019, the group organized a walkout that drew 10,000 teachers and supporters to State House grounds. They rallied for higher pay and smaller class sizes.

In a release, the group wrote that while the state has fallen short of its goal of putting a highly-qualified teacher in each classroom, SC for Ed has provided a positive forum to advance the “power in solidarity” among teachers, school staff, and parents.

“It has become clear that a small group of volunteers cannot maintain that solidarity alone, and that to try to do so leads to overly slow progress at best, and burnout at worst,” the release reads.

In an interview Monday following the announcement of the group suspending its advocacy efforts, Ellis, also a current SC for Ed board member, echoed that sentiment.

“Teaching is difficult in itself,” she said. “It has gotten harder as each year goes by with just the expectations that are unrealistic for teachers. And then you put advocacy in a state like South Carolina for public education on top of that, and it just is an impossible expectation of six board members and a few really staunch supporters.”

The group will no longer be organizing events, consistently posting on social media, updating its website, or responding to emails, the release said.

Ellis hopes that other organizations, better funded and with more resources, will take up the cause.

“It was a David and Goliath situation,” she said. “We’re going to step back and take a break and see if somebody else will step into that role and allow us to breathe again.”

WIS asked Ellis whether SC for Ed could ramp up its efforts again at some point in the future.

“I think that our group of people are not really ever ready to say, ‘We’re done, as teachers we always hope to continue the work that we do,” she said. “I have learned through this past year to never say never.”

She said “hopefully” the group will not have to “step back in the ring, but if poor decisions continue to be made, we reserve the right to come back out and start fighting again.”

SC for Ed’s goal, Ellis said, was never for a small group to advocate on behalf of all the teachers in the state, but rather to teach people how to advocate for themselves.

“To a certain extent, we have done that,” she said. “We’ve planted those seeds and we’re hoping that with this hiatus for us, that those seeds will grow and plant, and people will step up and really fight to support public education.”

Ellis said at times it felt like the group was fighting an overmatched battle.

“Part of it is because you’re dealing with policymakers that don’t understand education, they don’t understand what the teacher’s role is like,” she said.

Ellis attributes some of the obstacles the group has faced to what she characterizes as an attempt by Republicans to undermine public education.

“That is well-funded, that comes from out of state, that is this movement to dismantle public education in an effort to keep people down,” she said.

In its release, the group mentions “increasingly harmful and discouraging attacks” on the rights of students, teachers, and families.

It cites a failure to equitably fund schools and the school voucher program signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster in May.

The group’s release closes with the South Carolina state motto: Dum Spiro Spero– “While I Breathe, I Hope.”

Ellis said the students and teachers she sees each day give her hope.

“Honestly the students that I come in contact with every day, the teachers that are still in the fight, that are willing to come into a classroom that is underfunded, a classroom that they are under attack,” she said. “Those people that are still willing to fight the fight and the children that come in and are the ones that are saying, ‘Thank you for doing this, thank you for being my teacher.’”

WIS also spoke with another SC for Ed board member on Monday.

He said he got involved with the group because he had been waiting for someone like Ellis to come along and “go outside the box.”

The board member understands that some may be discouraged by this news, but hopes that they will take that discouragement and turn it into action.

SC for Ed encouraged supporters to contribute to groups like SC Wren and the SC ACLU, which have been at the forefront of fighting back against legislation SC for Ed has opposed.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association, an organization that lobbies on behalf of teachers, declined to comment on Monday.

South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East released a statement in response to the hiatus, which reads: “We are thankful to SC for Ed for the work they’ve done over the years. South Carolina’s public education supporters, both inside and outside the classroom, are our strongest asset, and we are grateful for those who have joined us in our advocacy efforts.

Relentless advocacy for strong public schools is more important than ever. We are seeing unprecedented attacks on public education in South Carolina, from voucher schemes to attempted book bans and censorship measures.

We will never stop advocating for public education and the hardworking employees who make it possible. The SCEA is the leading advocate for public schools in the state, and we are the only association that uses collective action to fight for better public schools for every South Carolina child.

We are not new to this, and we have been true to this. We warmly welcome any educator or ally of public education to join us collectively as we fight to protect public education. Together we are stronger and together we are heard.”

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