Republican Gov. Nikki Haley praised the GOP-dominated House on Wednesday for passing a budget proposal that includes some $65 million for her K-12 education priorities.
“I ask the Senate to take note that the public is with us and the kids are with us,” Haley said at a news conference after the House approved Wednesday a $24 billion spending plan for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1.
Haley, who is seeking a second four-year term, has made education – traditionally, a Democratic issue – a priority this year. The House budget includes $30 million for elementary school reading coaches and $29 million for technology improvements that Haley requested.
“I’m excited about the fact that I no longer will have to feel guilty that my daughter is getting a great education in River Bluff High School in Lexington and that I have to think about the children in Bamberg not getting the same thing,” said Haley, who was born in Bamberg.
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The House spending plan also includes: A 1.5 percent pay raise for state employees; hiring 31 new State Law Enforcement Division agents; allowing counties and cities to buy shorter state roads; and giving the state Department of Juvenile Justice temporary control of the John de la Howe School for at-risk youth.
On perhaps the most controversial portion of the House budget, Haley did not offer an opinion about the $70,000 taken from the College of Charleston and USC-Upstate for assigning gay-themed books to freshmen.
“We haven’t looked at all the details of the budget yet,” she said. “I don’t want to get into the details of what the House did because, once the Senate gets it, sometimes they change that.”
Republican House budget leaders returned the praise to Haley for her K-12 education plan.
“It starts with you,” House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said to Haley at the news conference. “In your State of the State, you mentioned education was going to be a big part of your platform, and we worked long and hard with the governor and her staff.”
State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, who heads the House’s K-12 education budget panel, added: “This is a historic change. The state of South Carolina should be thankful to her.”
White and Haley mentioned the education effort was bipartisan. But no Democrats were among the nearly 15 lawmakers who stood behind Haley during her news conference.
“This is a positive step for someone seeking re-election and following ideas from the Democrats,” said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland. “The Nikki Haley of 2014 is the Democratic Party of 2007.”
Still, Rutherford noted the House budget fell $537 million short of fully funding schools at per-student levels recommended by state budget officials.
“There’s always more we can do,” Haley said. “What I want everybody to understand is that this is a huge step in the right direction.”