With S.C. House and Senate lawmakers planning to give school districts an extra $149.2 million in the state budget that begins July 1, should they allow districts to furlough teachers?
Lawmakers in the House, which included $48 million in that money to give all teachers at least a 2 percent raise, say no. They passed a budget proviso — or rule — that would ban school districts from furloughing teachers unless the state cuts their budgets.
“I could get my pay raise, then turn around and they furlough me anyway. I don’t think that’s our intent,” said state Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, the House’s top budget writer. “I like to give them the pay raises and continue to have them work. We put a lot of money in education this year.”
But state senators say school districts should be allowed to furlough teachers to balance their budgets. The Senate’s version of the state’s $6.7 billion general fund budget does not include the House’s ban on furloughs.
“You got to leave some discretion to the school districts. I don’t know if we need to be up here mandating what they can and cannot do,” said state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, the Senate’s top budget writer. “You would hope they would be fair in whatever they do.”
The S.C. Association of School Boards, which represents the school boards that would make any furlough decisions, supports the Senate’s proposal to permit furloughs.
“For some school districts, that could mean the difference between preserving a job and losing a job,” said Scott Price, the association’s general counsel.
The furlough question is just one of many differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget.
Lawmakers — three from the House and three from the Senate — met Monday for nearly four hours to begin negotiating a compromise on the state budget, which must be approved by June 30. Lawmakers adjourned for the year last week but plan to return to Columbia next week in a special session to approve the budget.
Gov. Nikki Haley likely will veto several portions of the budget, and lawmakers would return to Columbia one more time — likely June 26 — to overturn or sustain those vetoes.
House and Senate budget writers will meet again today at 12:30 p.m. to continue budget deliberations.