COLUMBIA - Better salaries will attract better educators and will help increase the overall quality of education in South Carolina.
At least that's the hope of Gov. David Beasley.
In his 1997-98, $562 million executive budget released Tuesday, the governor called for $249 million in education funding, including raising teachers' annual salaries to $200 above the annual projected Southeastern average. That's 3.5 percent increase in money for primary and secondary education.
"In all, we have dedicated almost 45 percent of total new dollars to education," he said. "That's a lot of money. And, it's critically important."
The total executive budget increased by $245 million with most of it coming from existing revenue sources, including $52.4 million in Carnell-Felder set asides - reserves that supplement the state's capital and general reserve funds. In the past, the set asides could be used only for one-time projects.
The cost of giving teachers a pay raise is budgeted at $60.3 million. The average salary would be $33,745 per year, - a $1,057 raise for most teachers. The Southeastern average is $33,545 annually.
The Southeast has typically ranked near the bottom in salaries. The average salary in 1995-96 was $32,076 annually, and the national average was $37,846 per year. Average teacher pay was $31,622 in 1995-96 in South Carolina, which ranked eighth-lowest in salaries.
"I think (the governor's plan) certainly makes it possible for us to attract teachers from a wider range of areas to South Carolina," said Linda Eldridge, Aiken County school superintendent. "We need to be as competitive as possible in Southeastern United States."
South Carolina traditionally ranks near the bottom in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and overall education standards. In 1995, the Palmetto State ranked last in SAT scores and was 49th in education standards, just ahead of Mississippi.
But Mr. Beasley wants to change that.
In the past two years, he has proposed a series of education changes, including putting computers and video conferencing in all schools and giving five year olds the option of attending full-day kindergarten.
The budget would implement the second phase of his technology program by setting aside $10 million annually for the program and adding another $20 million this year to help purchase computer work stations and other hardware.
It also adds $16.9 million to fund the second phase of a three-year full-day kindergarten program. The second phase will include about 16,000 more children.
And the plan sets aside $400,000 to start a program that would allow parents to begin paying for their children's college education now and, thus, freeze tuition at the state college of their choice at today's levels. If implemented, it would begin at the start of fiscal year 1997-98.
The governor's education proposal also includes:
Mr. Beasley also suggested the state finance up to $250 million for building new schools and prisons.
At the same time, the governor said guaranteeing funds for property tax relief in the future is imperative. He wants 90 percent of the tax relief funding to come from recurring revenues.
The first $100,000 of an owner-occupied home is exempt from the previous year's school taxes in South Carolina. He's set aside $118 million next year to reimburse school districts.
However, the governor remained mum on his plans for funding nearly $1.9 billion in needed highway improvements and further statewide restructuring. He promised a separate announcement on roads in two weeks.
Howell Clyborne, Mr. Beasley's chief of staff, said last month the governor was interested in adding the Department of Transportation and a "few" other state agencies to his Cabinet.