Why are SC teachers fleeing at record rates? Here’s a look at the crisis by the numbers
That budget deal, reached late Tuesday and signed Wednesday morning, also includes spending $54 million on a new forensics lab for the State Law Enforcement Division. However, it does not include the state Senate's $20 million proposal to pay for renovations at the state's colleges and universities or a proposal to raise a cap on rooftop solar energy.
The spending is part of the state's proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The General Assembly still must approve that roughly $8 billion general fund budget, which it is expected to do Thursday.
Lawmakers returned to Columbia on Wednesday for a special two-day session to take up the budget and other issues.
Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, called the budget compromise the "most unusual" he ever has seen.
Since May, the legislature's budget chairmen — Leatherman in the Senate and Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson — had been unable to reach a spending deal, setting up the possibility the state would be without a budget for the start of its fiscal year.
A compromise was reached Tuesday, though Leatherman did not say specifically what that breakthrough was. "We hope everyone will agree with what we have, adopt it and go home," Leatherman said.
Once the Legislature adopts the budget, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has five working days — excluding Sunday — to issue any vetoes. Legislators are expected to return to Columbia in September to sustain or override those vetoes.
'A step in the right direction'
S.C. teachers flooded the State House on Wednesday, saying they were pleased lawmakers OK'd a teacher pay raise.
The last teacher pay hike — 2 percent — was signed by then-Gov. Nikki Haley in fiscal year 2016-'17.
Paying S.C. teachers more — and bringing experienced teachers back to fill classroom vacancies — has been a top priority of education advocates, who note the state is struggling to recruit enough teachers.
But teachers said Wednesday they were disappointed negotiators killed a budget proposal to keep retired teachers in the classroom by removing the state's $10,000 cap on earnings for retired state workers.
Lawmakers said the one-year proposal would have skirted state law.
"We are happy that the General Assembly gave teachers a raise," said Kathy Maness, head of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. "But we're not producing enough teachers in South Carolina. We were hoping that the cap (on earnings) would be (removed) so that it would help with our teacher shortage crisis."
Budget negotiators did add a one-year law to the budget proposal to remove the $10,000 earnings cap for retired police officers but only if they return as school resource officers.
Removing the cap, supporters say, is a short-term fix to hire more armed officers for about 590 public schools — a priority for some state officials after two deadly school shootings this year.
Jarrod Bruder, head of the S.C. Sheriff's Association, said the association was "grateful" for lawmakers' help.
"But it is not the only need for law enforcement agencies," he said. "They also are having a difficult time recruiting and retaining people."
The SRO proposal needs to win approval by three-fifths of the Senate to go to the governor.
Late Tuesday, negotiators also agreed to add $60 a student to the amount it pays school systems for education. Currently, the state pays $2,425 a student, nearly $600 less than state law mandates.
Lawmakers also added more money to increase the base pay for first-year teachers to $32,000, up from $30,000.
State schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda, said Wednesday she was pleased negotiators took a "step in the right direction" by tackling salaries and raising pay for new teachers.
But, she added, "South Carolina must show a commitment to addressing the issue of teacher recruitment and retention."
Advocates for other state workers were disappointed by the budget proposal because it does not include across-the-board raises for other state workers.
"The absence of competitive pay will continue to create an environment where state services ... are failing South Carolina citizens," said Carlton Washington, head of the S.C. State Employees Association.
"It appears that members of the General Assembly are neglecting their fiduciary responsibility to fund core government services, and, at some point, the public has to step in and say, 'We're not getting what we paid for.' "
Future of clean energy 'delayed'
Among the one-year proposals that lawmakers stripped from the budget proposal Tuesday was a measure to ease a restriction on rooftop solar energy in the state.
This spring, after power companies and their allies complained, the Legislature killed a bill that would have lifted a statewide cap on rooftop solar energy. Instead, House members proposed temporarily raising the cap on solar power through a one-year law — a move vital to keeping the solar industry vibrant, industry advocates said.
“It is deeply disappointing that clean energy progress in South Carolina will be delayed another year, putting at risk 3,000 local jobs in the state’s once-thriving solar industry and limiting South Carolinians' only true alternatives to monopoly utilities," the pro-industry group VoteSolar said in a statement, adding, there is "overwhelming support'' from voters for raising the cap.
McMaster eyes vetoes
McMaster's office did not say Wednesday whether the Republican would veto any parts of the budget.
But in a letter Sunday, McMaster urged budget chairmen Leatherman and White to pass a one-year law to strip the state's three abortion providers of federal family-planning dollars. The proposal's supporters say that money should be given to other health clinics that do not perform abortions.
Budget negotiators, however, dropped the proposal.
"The governor had said, on a number of occasions ... he will veto any line in the budget that directs funds to abortion providers," said McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes. "Knowing that, the General Assembly had an opportunity to include a proviso in the conference report that would keep those funds from going to organizations like Planned Parenthood and failed to do so."