Haley's proposal would cut money for education

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COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said her proposed budget for 2012-13 increases money for public schools, but a closer look shows her recommendations would actually decrease state funding by nearly $80 million.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley  File/Staff
File/Staff
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

“You’ll see education gets an increase,” she said in releasing her first executive budget last month.

The Republican governor is partially correct, but only by disregarding some pots of money. Her proposal represents an increase in recurring money for K-12 schools, when factoring in all state revenue sources — chiefly, the penny of the state sales tax that goes directly to education programs.

However, Haley’s budget proposal does not include anything funded this school year with one-time money.

That includes $56 million legislators added to the budget to boost the so-called “base student cost” to $1,880 per student — money they added over her veto. Superintendent Mick Zais has asked legislators to at least maintain that key funding source, which primarily pays for teacher salaries, by funding the $56 million through recurring sources, plus adding $15 million to account for student population growth.

By doing neither, Haley’s budget would reduce that per-student amount to $1,766 — in a year the state formula calls for it to be $2,790.

Educators call it disappointing.

“It shows education is not a priority,” said Kathy Maness of the Palmetto Teachers Association.

With an additional $913 million to spend, “you’d think there would be some money for teachers,” she said. “It’s got to be increased. If our state wants economic development, they’ll have to start funding education and making it a priority.”

The full House budget-writing committee will begin debating the budget this week. Maness and other education advocates hope legislators go beyond Haley’s and Zais’ recommendations. Legislators say there’s no chance they’ll restore the base student cost to $2,790, which would cost $553 million, but they could provide some increase.

The extra $913 million projected for 2012-13 follows several years of budget cuts due to the Great Recession.

It’s due to a surplus from the fiscal year that closed June 30, along with more money coming in this fiscal year than legislators budgeted, plus continued growth. However, required increases — including property tax relief, health care and reserve funds — gobble up most of it. And those surpluses from the current and last fiscal year are what’s considered one-time money. Former Gov. Mark Sanford long railed about using that to pay for long-term expenses.

Haley has long complained that more money needs to go toward the classroom, rather than administration.

As Zais points out, that’s precisely where the “base student cost” — considered a bellwether for state support — goes, in the form of salaries: “We ought to try and at least maintain funding for classroom operations.”

“While the governor and I disagree on the dollar amount directed to the base student cost, we’re in complete agreement that recurring dollars should be used to pay for recurring expenses,” Zais said.

Haley’s budget also does not annualize the $20 million in one-time “hold harmless” money sent to districts to cover shortfalls due to an adjustment to a state funding formula. And it reduces lottery money to K-12 schools by $11.3 million, in order to fully fund lottery-funded college scholarships.

Items Haley highlighted when releasing her $5.7 billion budget plan include further tax cuts — reducing revenue from state and corporate income taxes by $140 million — and the addition of about 100 law enforcement officers. She would put $75 million of one-time money toward encouraging counties to take over the maintenance of some state roads.

The conservative South Carolina Policy Council says Haley is right to insist that education by funded only with recurring money.

“If increasing base student funding is a priority, it should be treated as a priority, not a benevolent afterthought,” said spokesman Barton Swaim, who formerly worked for Sanford. “All this confusion highlights the fact that our funding structure doesn’t make sense. Our K-12 education system isn’t underfunded — it’s funded inefficiently.”

On the plus side of the equation, Haley would give the statewide public charter school district an additional $10 million.

“The problem that I think we’ve had in the past with government is we tend to just look at the dollars that go into education. I don’t want us to do that anymore. It’s not what we get; it’s how we spend it,” she said, adding that’s why she put more money toward charters.

Superintendent Wayne Brazell said that money would only cover student growth in his statewide district, which consists of charter schools that chose not to organize through their local district.

The $10 million would be on top of the $25 million legislators added in the current school year, to help make up for the fact its schools get no local taxes. Ironically, since the district otherwise relies on base student cost, Haley’s budget actually reduces per-student spending on its schools.

Haley redirected some money that comes in through the penny sales tax added under the 1984 Education Improvement Act. That penny funds specific things such as gifted and talented programs, summer school, student testing, 4-year-old kindergarten, and bonuses for teachers with a national certification. Both Zais and Haley recommend closing that incentive program to new entries.

The penny is expected to generate an additional $42 million over the recurring amount legislators budgeted for this year, to nearly $607 million. However, after factoring in a one-time allocation from a previous surplus, the extra is less than $9 million.

New programs she funds include $2 million toward Teach for America, which puts top college graduates who didn’t major in education into low-income schools, and $1.75 million to launch a STEM curriculum, which stands for Science Technology Engineering Math, aimed at preparing students for careers in technology.

Education Oversight Committee director Melanie Barton praised the additions of those EOC initiatives.

“Having successful leaders in the classrooms of our most challenged schools is critical to change the expectations and culture of many of our schools,” she said.

Haley also added $10 million for technology and $2 million to help failing schools while eliminating money for some university-sponsored programs. She puts $5 million toward leasing school buses, as she pursues legislation transferring bus responsibilities to districts.

“I don’t want to buy any more school buses,” Haley said. Her spokesman Rob Godfrey used that as an example for how her budget increases money for K-12: “It doesn’t burn tens of millions of dollars on buying buses, which are expensive, which rapidly depreciate, and which we don’t need to own anymore,” he said.

The state hasn’t spent “tens of millions” on buses in years.

The current budget designates up to $12.3 million for new buses from unclaimed lottery prizes — the first designation for buses since 2007. The education agency has received about one-third of that, said Zais, who added he’s fine with decentralizing buses.

Zais did request $36 million to buy enough new school buses to comply with the state’s 15-year replacement cycle law, to get buses from the mid-80s off the road. Legislators have ignored that law since passing it.

Godfrey says Haley also deserves credit for fully funding increases in employer contributions for educators’ pensions and health insurance, so that cost isn’t not passed on to districts.


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