Public school officials from across the state gathered on the top stops of the State House Wednesday to demand lawmakers stop cutting funds for public schools.
"Enough is enough!" said Bruce Davis, president of the S.C. School Boards Association. "No more budget cuts, mandates or excuses."
Those words, in bold letters, were printed on large posters that carried the images of stern-looking school-age children. School officials held those posters as Davis and then Zona Jefferson, an executive board member of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, argued public education is being hurt by repeated cuts.
"We look at what is happening to schools today, and it saddens us," she said. "We have less services for our children, less opportunities to give our children - opportunities they deserve. Our children only get one chance at childhood."
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Noting that state funding for K-12 public schools has been cut by $484 million over the past two years, school officials want districts to pass a resolution calling on the General Assembly to "support public schools during this economic crisis and prevent the loss of more teacher jobs by providing new revenue streams such as removing tax exemptions, enforcing online sales tax collections and increasing the state's lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax to the national average, while directing a portion of the proceeds collected from the increase in the cigarette tax to K-12 public education."
K-12 public education gets more state funding than any other area of the budget. And legislators must keep the state's budget in balance even as revenue plummets in this sour economy.
There is support for raising the cigarette tax, but even those who are big backers of public education are not sold on the idea of using cigarette tax money on schools.
"I need that money to go to health care," said state Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg.
Sellers said he would support changes to Act 388, a three-year-old law that exempted owner-occupied homes from property taxes for school operations. The act raised the state sales tax, which was to make up for the loss in revenue.
When the economy plunged into a recession, sales tax revenue dropped off sharply.
"We need to revisit our tax structure and free up some money and go back and revisit 388," Sellers said.
As far as Davis is concerned, public school officials can do only so much to limit the impact of state budget cuts.
"This situation was created by the Legislature," he said. "They created it. They can solve the problem."