Originally created 12/20/96

S. C. education chief pushing for more per-pupil funding



AIKEN - Aiken County school Superintendent Linda Eldridge was happy to hear Thursday that South Carolina's education chief is seeking more per-pupil funding to help offset a student population boom in the state.

It was especially welcome news after she learned the same day that Aiken County schools will be receiving $254,000 less next year because of the influx of students, mainly in the upstate and coastal counties.

"I'm delighted to hear (State Education Superintendent Barbara Nielsen) is asking for an increase, because $254,000 is a lot for a school district," Dr. Eldridge said. "We need every penny."

Public school populations have soared across South Carolina compared with last year, especially in Greenville County where rapid growth is fueled by the influx of new companies such as BMW.

The downside of such unexpected growth is that, based on the state's $1,760-per-student formula, school districts face a $6.8 million shortfall.

The General Assembly typically has not funded such shortfalls, Dr. Nielsen said. But since the growth was so great this year, she will ask lawmakers to set aside more money for schools.

"I'd support Barbara Nielsen on that. Our key priority is education and we are not spending our fair share," said state Rep. Fletcher Smith, D-Greenville.

School districts report their average daily attendance for the first 45 days of school in mid-October and the average attendance for the first 135 days of school in mid-April.

The difference statewide between the mid-April count this year and the mid-October count was an increase of 11,298 students to 642,459.

Greenville County saw the number of students soar 1,663 from April to October, to 55,892. That means Greenville County received $593,000 less than it should to fully fund the state formula.

Aiken County's enrollment jumped 352 students during that same time, from 24,239 students in April last year to 24,591 now, said Larry Clark, comptroller for Aiken County schools.

"We were over our projections as most people were throughout the state," said Dr. Eldridge, adding she will recommend that the school board transfer the $254,000 from the district's contingency fund, used for emergencies.

In addition to Greenville County, other regions of fast growth include Beaufort County, which added 614 students; Horry County, with 781 additional students; and Charleston County, with 878 more students.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.