SC Senate wants more money for education

ccope@thestate.comApril 29, 2014 

— Senate budget writers want to spend more on K-12 education than the S.C. House approved last month.

Meeting this week, the Senate Finance Committee is wrapping up its budget proposal for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1. Members expect to vote on a budget proposal by Thursday at the latest.

Leaders on the Finance Committee’s K-12 and Higher Education subcommittees said Tuesday that their spending priorities include more money to expand 4-year-old kindergarten for at-risk students, to buy school buses, and to help technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities.

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairman of the K-12 subcommittee, would not say how much money he wants to add for 4K expansion, but he expects to have an exact amount Wednesday. “We’re still fighting behind the scenes trying to get where the money is,” Hayes said.

Hayes also wants the state to spend about $3 million more than the $12 million that the House approved for school buses.

Higher education also could get more money from the Senate than it did the House.

“I’m confident we will be able to put more money in higher education,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Richland, chairman of the Higher Education subcommittee .

Courson said state funding of colleges has not been adequate considering their increased enrollment, in particular at technical colleges.

Technical colleges need more money for science, technology, engineering and math programs, programs currently maxed out as far as faculty and facilities, Courson said. In addition, four-year institutions face increased maintenance needs because of the age of many buildings, he said.

Finding more money for higher education is challenging, Courson said. “We receive the budget from the House, they’ve spent every dime and we have to rearrange money.”

But, he added, for the last five years, the Senate nonetheless has been able to put more money into higher education by moving dollars around.

The budget proposal adopted by the Senate Finance Committee will go to the full Senate, probably next week. If approved there, House and Senate negotiators will have to hammer out a compromise between the different spending plans adopted by those bodies.

After legislative approval, the budget proposal goes to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who can sign off on the plan or veto parts or all of it.

The Senate’s priorities

Members of the Senate Finance Committee listed their priorities Tuesday for the state’s budget that takes effect July 1. Some of the priorities advocated included:

Hiring additional law enforcement personnel

Enhancing security measures at prisons

Upgrading facilities used to train the state’s law enforcement officers

More home and community-based services for the state’s aging population and the disabled, including addressing waiting lists and providing critical respite care for families

Restoring recession-era cuts to mental-health services

Continuing the “Healthy Outcomes” initiative to improve access to health care in rural areas and spending more in “hotspots” of poor health

More prosecutors to try violent crimes, gang-related crimes and sex crimes

Restoring and repairing the state’s National Guard armories

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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