S. Carolina seeks ways trim budget

Cutting school days, Medicaid among ideas

COLUMBIA --- The state House's top budget writer said Thursday that cutting 10 days out of South Carolina's school year could save $210 million and help ease an $800 million deficit.

Whittling down the 180-day school calendar is just one of the ideas House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper offered after his panel's first meeting, months before members begin writing a $5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.

"We'll probably have to do something like that," he said.

The suggestion drew an immediate objection from a state education official, who said it also cuts learning for children and goes in the wrong direction.

A 180-day school year is the norm nationally and the Obama Administration has called for more class time, not less, in the nation's schools, said Pete Pillow, a spokesman for the state Education Department.

He noted that it takes away 10 days of teacher pay and adds 10 days more for parents to find care or activities for their children.

"You're talking about an economic hit. You're giving 50,000 teachers plus other folks in schools 10 days less pay when you're trying to revive the state's economy," he said.

Cooper also is considering eliminating popular and far-reaching Medicaid programs that aren't mandated by federal law.

"You'll probably see some programs that won't be offered anymore," Cooper said. "I look for us to have to combine some agencies -- the smaller ones."

The state's Medicaid program is short $350 million to maintain current services. Cooper said closing that gap could mean eliminating $100 million in programs for elderly, disabled and poor people, including extra prescription drugs, hospice care and assistance to stay in their homes.

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