The Democratic candidate for governor says he wants to pay South Carolina teachers more and overhaul a controversial 2006 tax law that, critics say, hurt many schools.
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden also wants to expand 4-year-old kindergarten statewide and increase taxpayer funding of public colleges in exchange for a cap in tuition costs.
The Camden attorney’s schools agenda, announced Monday, follows more than a year of Gov. Nikki Haley staking a claim to the education issue, historically a Democratic cause.
The biggest problems facing South Carolina “are education and a broken tax system,” Sheheen told The State. “I am forceful and passionate in my belief that the two are linked, and we should reform them together.”
As a legislator, Sheheen has backed proposals to reform the way the state raises money for schools and to increase teacher pay. Last year, for instance, he introduced a bill to expand into every school district the state’s free 4K program.
Last year, Haley met with lawmakers, teachers, school administrators and business leaders. Then, in January, she included about $180 million in education proposals in her executive budget.
Haley said she saw her plan as the first step in a multi-year commitment to public education.
In response to Sheheen’s proposal, Haley campaign spokeswoman Chaney Adams focused on the Republican’s “sweeping education-reform package, which won widespread praise from educators and bipartisan support for its passage this year.”
Sheheen said Haley’s education plan smacked of election-year politics, adding that education has been the government service hit hardest by Haley’s veto pen.
From 2011-13, Haley vetoed $110 million in public education spending, including $95 million in her first year in office, The State reported last year.
If elected governor, Sheheen said he would work to raise teacher pay – which averaged about $47,900 in 2012-13, according to the National Center on Education Statistics –to the national average of $56,400 in five or six years.
Sheheen also said he wants to reform Act 388, the state’s 2006 tax overhaul that critics say led to funding inequities among school districts.
That law, which Sheheen opposed, exempted owner-occupied homes from paying property taxes for school operating costs, placing that burden instead on other properties, including businesses.
Sheheen said he would abolish local property taxes for school operating expenses, replacing them with what he said would be a low, statewide property tax on nonresidential properties. That way, poorer rural districts can benefit from other areas experiencing economic growth, he said.