South Carolina public school teachers and state workers rallied over the weekend at the state capitol in Columbia to persuade lawmakers to provide higher pay for workers and increased funding for education.
The Columbia State reports that education advocates are seeking more funding for school districts and state agencies, where some officials struggle to fill jobs and retain experienced workers.
Protesters raised hand-drawn signs that said, "Why should my students respect me when the government doesn't?" and "We are worth more money."
"We must elect a governor and members of the General Assembly who care about our state employees (and) our public schools," says Kathy Maness, head of the Palmetto State Teachers Association.
South Carolina's average teacher pay — $48,769 — falls below the Southeastern average, and new teachers earn about $30,100.
Overall, nearly 40,000 full-time state workers earn $50,000 or less.
A 2016 state-funded study found state workers' pay lags 15 percent behind that of other states and 18 percent behind the private sector.
"Our ... legislators need to remember the simple message that thousands of my own students carry away from my classroom over the years," said Bernadette Hampton, head of the S.C. Education Association. "If you know better, do better."
Hampton says teachers want at least a 1 percent pay raise and more money to bump up teachers' starting pay to $32,000.
"As a state, we know that we need to do better things around teacher pay, around social and emotional support, around safety," says Patrick Kelly, who teaches AP U.S. history at Blythewood High School. "But talk’s not enough, because kids only get one chance at a K-12 education."