COLUMBIA, SC — Legislators whose support Gov. Nikki Haley will need to ensure her proposed $160 million education spending package is adopted were positive but noncommittal Thursday, saying they needed to take a closer look.
“Education will be in focus,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, speaking at a legislative workshop for media Thursday. “I’m not sure about the amount of money they were talking about – we need to take a look at the plans,” he said, adding he had not had time to review the proposal, which Haley announced Wednesday.
“Education is critically important because it is a subset of the big issue (this legislative session) which is jobs and the economy,” Harrell added.
State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means budget-writing committee, said, “The likelihood of a lot of these things, if not all of these things, passing should be very good” since Haley met with education groups and elected officials from both parties to get their ideas.
“Looking at the budget numbers, we’ll start compiling that and figuring that out.”
Haley proposes paying most of the cost of her plan – $130 million – with money from expected growth in state revenues. Those revenues are estimated to be increase more than $200 million next year as the economy slowly recovers. However, other state programs, including the state’s Medicaid insurance program for the poor and disabled, also are lining up for some of that money.
Democrats at the workshop said focusing on expanding early-childhood education is a priority – a position that backs a proposal being pushed by Haley’s likely Democratic challenger for governor in November, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
The Camden attorney is pushing for an expansion of the state’s 4-year-old kindergarten program, currently only available to at-risk children in some counties.
State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said he could “certainly appreciate” where the governor is coming from in her spending proposal. But expanding 4K is “the single most important driving issue in educational improvement right now in South Carolina,” he added.
“Undeniable research is there” for more spending on 4K and “early childhood preparedness,” Lourie said. “We know (4K) works.”
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said Haley was “adopting a more Democratic approach” in her proposal unveiled Wednesday, one Democrats – the minority party in the GOP-controlled Legislature – will consider fairly.
“This is not Washington,” Rutherford said. “Where we agree, we will try to do what’s best for South Carolina, even if somebody else on the other side of the aisle came up with the idea.”
Rutherford said he opposes expanding private school-choice programs. “We’ve got to (teach) as many of those kids as we can,” he said. “That’s what the Democrats have wanted for years, and we certainly will bring her alongside and welcome her to the table.”
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