South Carolina’s schools chief wants state lawmakers to spend nearly $481 million more on public education next year.
Most of the money would benefit the state’s lowest-performing school districts, Education Superintendent Molly Spearman told a House K-12 budget-writing panel Wednesday.
More than $227 million of the new spending would go to increase the state money that schools receive based on their enrollment and how much it costs to teach different types of students.
The new spending also would include more money for students enrolling in college-level courses, something S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is pushing as a way to make sure S.C. high-school graduates are prepared for college or careers.
Much of the Education Department’s budget request also is aimed at helping make existing programs successful in impoverished, rural school districts, said Spearman, a Saluda Republican in her second year in office. That support, she added, has been cut back at the agency in recent years.
“I lose sleep on this one every night – some of these low-performing districts that we have not been out there ... giving them the support that we need,” she said.
The state also faces an S.C. Supreme Court mandate to improve public schools, especially in rural, impoverished districts that sued the state in 1993 for more support. The court expects an update from lawmakers on their progress on that goal when this year’s legislative session ends.
Spearman’s request also includes:
▪ $19 million for career specialists. State law requires school districts to have one career guidance counselor for every 300 students. The money would help school districts meet that requirement.
▪ $25 million to raise the salary of a starting teacher to $30,000 a year from $29,500. That’s a priority to recruit and retain teachers, education advocates say.
▪ Hire an additional 56 employees, including nine to focus on state standards, reading and early childhood. The request for new employees also includes $1.2 million to hire 18 new teachers for the state’s growing Virtual S.C. program, which offers online classes to students statewide.
South Carolina’s virtual course program is the fifth largest in the country and growing rapidly, Spearman said. In the 2014-15 school year, more than 27,000 students took more than 39,000 classes online.
Spearman said her goal was to encourage impoverished, rural schools to take advantage of the high-quality teachers in the virtual programs. “Don't just settle for a warm body or a long-term substitute.”