Added school money called unsatisfactory

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COLUMBIA --- South Carolina's new budget added money to public schools overall, but the state still gave up spending on things such as SAT preparation. Advocates argue the budget also shortchanged schools with only a modest increase in per-student spending that's key to keeping teachers in classrooms.

Public education spending accounts for more than a third of the $6 billion spending plan that took effect Friday. It includes $12.4 million for school buses, $20 million to deal with flaws in the statewide school funding formula and $56 million in additional per-student spending.

Gov. Nikki Haley's single surviving public schools veto cut $169,487 in funding for a SAT improvement program. The Legislature already had dropped the program from the budget but left the cash intact.

"Nothing, including this veto, prevents school districts from developing programs to help students improve their scores on standardized college admissions tests," Haley said in her veto message.

Though the money isn't a big deal, the loss of the program doesn't mesh with the thinking that the tests are a measuring stick for the state, said Scott Price, a lobbyist for the South Carolina School Boards Association.

"It's a little bit contradictory with people who place so much emphasis on SAT scores," Price said. "It seems like we're backing down to some extent from our emphasis of education achievement."

Molly Spearman, the executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, said it doesn't make sense to get rid of a program that helps students with the SAT when educators keep getting hammered about scores.

The $56 million raises the state's per-student spending to $1,880. That money is intended to cover teacher salaries and materials and is up from $1,615 during the previous year. It's still well short of the $2,720 a state school funding formula requires.

Schools will start the year with per-student spending at 2003 levels, said Kathy Maness, the executive director for the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

Spearman said the low funding levels make it "very, very difficult, but our principals and school leaders are trying to be creative and survive through these hard times."

The money does ease some budget problems. For instance, a few districts that scrapped raises to save jobs during the past three years have resumed giving them, Maness said.

"I think we're going to be having more teachers," she said. "Are we going to have as many teachers as before the recession? No."

On the other hand, Spearman is getting reports that tight funding is leading some schools not to rehire as many first-year teachers.


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