It was just a few years ago that lawmakers in South Carolina and other poor-performing states realized that for their state to succeed, they had to invest in education.

So the long, and expensive, journey of improving schools began.

Key to that improvement was elevating teachers - the ones charged with educating the next generation. That was done with respect. Respect for the job, respect for the person doing the job, respect for the profession. And that respect was rewarded with higher salaries that made the profession much more appealing and raised the caliber of our teachers. It was also rewarded with training and support to do their job better.

More college students majored in education and professionals in other fields took advantage of programs that let them become teachers without going back to college.

Then the money got tight. In South Carolina, teachers went two years without a pay raise. Last year, they got a raise, but part of it was paid for with funds allocated for just one year. At the same time, teachers, as a group, came under fire from pundits who insisted they werenít doing their jobs. That respect was slipping away quickly.

On Wednesday, the state school Superintendent Mick Zais said he wants teachers to get a pay raise Ė but heís putting the burden for that back on the local districts to come up with the money.

That means the district would have to cut spending one place and put that money toward salaries, or raise taxes.

Because owner-occupied homes arenít assessed property taxes for school operations, and tax increase would fall mostly on businesses

That puts teachers even more in the line of fire of tax-hating residents who donít want to shell out any more money for taxes.

Zaisí rationale is that districts are top-heavy Ė too much money goes to administrators. That may be true in some districts, but not in all. So what are those districts to do? We donít think Aiken County residents will take too kindly to a request for higher taxes.

While Zais may be short-sighted when it comes to taking care of the state education systemís greatest assets, its teachers, he is working within a broken system Ė the dysfunctional S.C. General Assembly.

Years of inconsistent funding, an ineffective school taxing system and a general inability to get anything done have hurt our schools. And weíre going to have to ante up. If higher standards for education are demanded by the state, then the money has to be there, consistently, to make it happen.