Outgoing state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said South Carolina needs to pay teachers at least $40,000 a year - up from the current minimum annual salary of $36,000.
The $40,000 figure is higher than the Republican superintendent's initial budget request and higher than what's proposed in Gov. Henry McMaster's executive budget.
Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said it probably would take two to three years to reach a $40,000 minimum salary, but it would help the state remain competitive, as other states move toward that amount.
"We would be sitting pretty well nationally if we could there," Brown said.
In her initial budget request, Spearman requested a 2% raise, which would have increased teacher salaries between $800 and $1,700, depending on where teachers fall on the salary schedule. That framework pays teachers based on years of experience and education level.
The 2% raise - along with making adjustments to the first five years of the salary schedule to ensure the teachers early in their career receive the full value of their step increase - would cost about $162 million.
"Whatever they could do with the salary would be helpful," Brown said.
The Department of Education submitted its 2% request in September before the Board of Economic Advisors released its latest estimate of available revenue in November.
The state has about $3 billion in additional money to allocate, which includes about $897 million of new annual dollars, used to pay for ongoing expenses, such as services, health-care costs and salaries.
"Neither my request, nor the governor's request, I believe goes far enough, we tried to be reasonable, I hope with the additional funding that you have that you will do even more for our teachers," Spearman told a panel of House budget writers on Wednesday. "They certainly deserve it."
The Department of Education did not immediately have an estimate of how much it would cost to bring the state's minimum teacher salary to $40,000, but expected it to be a large number.
In the state, 26 out of the 77 school districts have base salaries of at least $40,000, according to data from the Department of Education.
Spearman, who is in her eighth year as state superintendent and is not running for reelection, made the comments as the state has more than 1,000 vacant teaching positions, according to an annual survey by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement.
Spearman's comment about paying teachers more received support from at least one budget writer.
"We need to do as much as we can on those salaries," said state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort. "We've got to put in extra funding."
Gov. Henry McMaster proposed raising the starting salary to $38,000 in his executive budget. The $2,000 raise to the minimum salary schedule also wouldn't apply to every school district if they're already paying at least that amount, under McMaster's plan.
Spearman's budget request also includes a 5% raise for bus drivers to help fill the 700 vacant bus driver positions.
Increasing pay for bus drivers
Spearman's proposal would raise bus driver pay from $8.44 an hour to at least $8.86 an hour. School districts, however, may pay more than the minimum sometimes reaching $17 to $25 an hour.
However, Spearman and state Rep. Bill Whitmire, R-Oconee , said during the hearing the proposed raise may not be enough as competition for workers is high.
"I don't think 5% is going to keep a lot of them," Whitmire said.
Spearman said raising the minimum bus driver pay to $10 an hour would cost an additional be $17 million.
McMaster, in his executive budget, proposed offering a $2,000 bonus for school bus drivers who stay throughout the school year. That bonus would be broken up into three payments.
Spearman, however, said the logistics of carrying out the bonus would be difficult.