Originally created 03/09/06

House panel approves pay raise for teachers



COLUMBIA - Most South Carolina teachers would get raises and the Barnwell trust fund would be repaid under the budget a House committee approved Wednesday.

"Anytime you increase salaries for teachers, it's going to make Aiken more competitive," said Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley. "Anytime you increase money for classrooms, it's going to help students."

Mr. Smith and Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, are members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which drafts the House's budget plan.

Mr. Smith also leads the budget subcommittee for K-12 education.

Lawmakers included funding for teachers' raises as part of the $69 million in new spending approved for base student costs.

If the measure passes, the average teacher salary in South Carolina would be $43,991, $300 more than the average for this area of the country, Mr. Smith said.

Committee members also allocated nearly $98.6 million to repay the trust funds raided when the economy slumped. That includes refilling the Barnwell Extended Maintenance Care Fund, intended to pay for the maintenance of Chem-Nuclear's low-level nuclear waste site for the next century.

Mr. Smith said the House plan also benefits Midland Valley High School in Langley, which would get a portion of the $14.8 million directed at training students who do not intend to go to college.

The full House likely won't debate the budget plan until the week of March 27.

Then the Senate gets its turn and members of both chambers meet in a special committee to compromise on the details.

Tempers, however, already have flared between Gov. Mark Sanford and House Republicans.

Mr. Sanford drew their anger two weeks ago by firing off a press release criticizing the House's budget plan while the proposal was still being considered.

Then the House split the budget plan into three bills: the main appropriations bill, which funds essentials and caps new spending at a 4.8 percent increase, with education and Medicaid exemptions; a supplemental appropriations bill; and a Capital Reserve Fund spending plan.

On Wednesday in a written statement, Mr. Sanford said the House plan "doesn't completely pay back trust and reserve funds and it spends almost every dime coming into Columbia this year, putting this at odds with what many House Republicans have previously said we could expect from this year's budget in terms of getting our fiscal house in order and slowing the rate of government growth."