S.C. teachers will get a 2 percent pay raise under a budget proposal approved Wednesday by the House’s budget-writing committee.
The Ways and Means Committee also OK’d raising the starting salary for new teachers with a bachelor’s degree to $32,000, up from about $30,000.
But not all state workers would be so lucky under the proposal.
The $8.2 billion general fund budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 does not include across-the-board pay raises for state workers, already underpaid compared to the private sector and public-sector workers in other states. Nor does it raise the salaries of S.C. judges — from the S.C. Supreme Court to family courts.
Carlton Washington, head of the S.C. State Employees Association, called the absence of raises “irresponsible.”
“It further depletes the morale and does nothing to provide good services to citizens of South Carolina,” he said.
House budget writers also did not add more per-student money for K-12 schools. Schools now get $2,425 a student, roughly $600 below the level set by state law.
However, they did add $32 million to cover the cost of more K-12 students. The budget also adds about $13 million to keep up with added enrollment in S.C. public charter schools.
The budget-writing committee included about $8 million to buy new school buses. But that falls short of meeting the cost of a 2007 S.C. law that says the state’s bus fleet must be replaced every 15 years.
Next year’s budget is tight, lawmakers reiterated Wednesday.
The Legislature only has about $292 million in added money to spend – much of that money going to higher health-care costs. There also is $145 million reserved for one-time costs.
The House spending plan allocates about $50 million to addresses building and maintenance needs at public colleges. The schools asked for the state to borrow to cover those costs and others, a proposal that has stalled in the General Assembly.
“If we had political courage in this body, we would pass a bond bill to fund the needs of higher ed,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. “Until we actually come to grips with the fact this state has shirked its responsibilities, as far as maintenance, we’re always going to be .... behind in the region.”
For example, the University of South Carolina asked lawmakers for $50 million to jump-start the construction of a new $200 million campus for its School of Medicine. House budget writers approved $5 million.
Other colleges would get less, including USC Beaufort, which would get nearly $3.7 million to pay for library and classroom upgrades, and security and technology updates.
State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said the college repeatedly has had to cover the building and maintenance costs with county and local tax dollars.
“Was it taken into account that the University of South Carolina Beaufort is the fifth fastest-growing university in the nation?” Erickson asked. “Did that come up in the discussion at all because we’re busting at the seams.”
House budget chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said he understood his colleague’s concern.
But, he added, “You wonder, ‘Why USC-B can’t get it?’ It’s because ... you have an 105 percent increase in autism rates over the last two years. Then you look at opioids. (There’s) probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million that we put in the budget just this year that has not been there prior.”