SC education gets $175M boost in House plan

jself@thestate.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— Public school districts would get more state money to pay for teacher pay raises and increase security if a budget proposal in the S.C. House becomes law.

But state education officials say they will be asking lawmakers for more money for school buses and textbooks, too, as the budget is refined and debated.

The S.C. Education Department would get a boost of $175 million in state support for its $3.9 billion budget under the proposal.

The increase would cover the cost of a mandatory pay raise for all teachers, said state Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, chairman of the House budget subcommittee on K-12 education. The money also would help districts improve school safety, a top priority in the wake of December’s Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Bingham said.

Bills in both the House and the state Senate would place armed police officers in every public school, but no one has said yet how they would pay for the plan. Bingham said the House proposal allows districts to decide whether they need law enforcement in schools or other safety measures.

About $77 million of the $175 million increase to school districts would come from the state’s general fund, raising the base student cost to $2,101 from the current $2,012, said Education Department spokesman Jay Ragley.

The base student cost is an amount of money the state gives districts for each student. The calculation considers a school district’s ability to raise revenues from its tax base and how much it costs to educate different types of students.

Some spending items on the Education Department’s agenda were not met, Ragley said.

State Superintendent Mick Zais had requested an additional $18.4 million for textbooks and classroom instructional materials to keep up with changing academic standards, Ragley said. But the House recommends a $2 million cut in that area.

Citing the increasing cost to maintain the state school system’s aging bus fleet, Zais also requested $34 million in additional money from unclaimed lottery prizes to buy new school buses. Instead, the House panel included in next year’s budget $10.5 million from the state’s capital reserve fund, used for equipment purchases. That money is nonrecurring, meaning it would not be guaranteed in subsequent budget years.

The Education Department recently spent $28 million to buy new school buses, replacing 6.8 percent of the state’s oldest-in-the-nation fleet. Still, 95 percent of the state’s bus fleet will be “off warranty, meaning the state will be on the hook for all major repairs,” after July 1, Ragley said.

Fuel and maintenance costs also are on the rise, he added, estimated to reach $64.6 million this year, up $4.4 million from last year. The House budget panel approved about $66 million for those costs for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Ragley said.

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