South Carolina debates using surplus for public schools

Dollar signs on a chalkboard symbolize the costs of getting an education.

Steve Chiotakis: Texas lawmakers faced a deadline today to pass a state budget. And they did it just in time. The legislature just yesterday hacked off $4 billion from the education budget. In South Carolina though, there's a different problem: what to do with all their extra revenue.

From station WFAE, Lisa Miller reports.


Lisa Miller: Last month, South Carolina lawmakers found themselves in an unusual predicament. State economists told them they'd have an extra $210 million to work with in the budget starting Friday.

Wes Hayes: We certainly haven't had surplus money the last few years. We've had the other problem.

That's Republican State Senator Wes Hayes. He thought it would make sense to use half of the extra money as tax relief for some businesses, and the other half to start making up for past cuts in K-12 education. The state senate voted to increase per pupil spending from about $1,600 to nearly $2,000.

Hayes: Still substantially less than where it was a few years ago, but it would be better.

But two weeks ago, Republican Governor Nikki Haley said that wasn't going to fly.

Nikki Haley: The fact that we had additional money going to the senate doesn't mean you go and say 'Oh, where can we spend it and how fast can we spend it?' It means you say, if you're not giving it in tax relief, if you're not giving it to pay down debt, you send it back to the taxpayer.

South Carolina's House agreed to only send $56 million of the extra money to public schools. But even that was too much for Haley. Yesterday, she vetoed the funds. The House votes today on whether to override that veto.

One of those watching closely will be Linda Blackwell, an elementary school principal in Lancaster County. Over the past few years, she's had to cut summer school, lay off five teachers and trim work days for remaining teachers. She says, lately, teaching has become much more challenging.

Miller: How many desks are in here?

Linda Blackwell: This is 28 and there's two more here, so that's 30.

Some classes have swelled by almost a third.

Blackwell: You've got to be everywhere and you got to have eyes on everyone and it's hard to do that if you're on one side of the room and someone thinks, 'I'm not going to get called on and it's going to be a little while before she gets over here.'

Whether the extra education money comes through or not, Blackwell is getting ready to prepare her teachers for more of the same next year.

I'm Lisa Miller for Marketplace.

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