A proposal to dedicate $11.3 million additional dollars to scholarships for students from low-income families faces an uncertain future as lawmakers wrestle over where to invest state money.
While multiple lawmakers say they support increasing need-based scholarship funding, House Majority Leader Gary Simrill said it's too early to say whether the House will approve the increase, which passed in the Senate. Because need-based scholarships get roughly half their funding from the general fund, need-based scholarships have to compete with funding for school resource officers and a forensics lab for the State Law Enforcement Division, said Simrill, R-York.
The version of the budget approved by the Senate on April 12 allocates $76 million to need-based scholarships. The House budget keeps funding at last year's levels, $65 million, according to Senate budget data.
South Carolina's need-based scholarships provide qualified students up to $2,500 per year, according to state regulations.
Some lawmakers, such as Sens. Greg Hembree and Brad Hutto, have proposed cutting lottery scholarship funding and giving some of that leftover money to need-based scholarships.
Hembree, R-Horry, and Hutto, D-Orangeburg, would cut lottery scholarship funding by raising academic requirements to what they were a few years ago. A change last year in the state's grading scale made it easier for students to get the As and Bs needed for lottery scholarships.
But Simrill and Rep. Merita "Rita" Allison, R-Spartanburg, who chairs the House Education and Public Works Committee, disagree with cutting lottery scholarship funding.
"Once you qualify, I don't know if I would take that away," Allison said of lottery scholarship recipients. However, "Any new (lottery) money that comes down, need-based should be considered first."
Lawmakers won't have to choose between then two, at least not yet. Hembree's bill is dead for this year, and the Senate's budget calls for an increase to both merit-based and need-based scholarships.
"I don't want to cut merit-based to ... fund need-based," Simrill said. "I want to have both."