SC schools to get more money, flexibility in how to spend in new state budget

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Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 7:12 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 1, 2022 at 8:05 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new state budget kicked in on Friday, the start of South Carolina’s new fiscal year, and with it comes a major overhaul in how public schools are paid for.

Gov. Henry McMaster and former state superintendents of education had called the way South Carolina previously funded its schools “opaque,” “convoluted,” and “fractured.”

Lawmakers said the new school funding formula in effect beginning Friday streamlines that process and gives districts more freedom to determine how to spend their money.

“I think that’s transformational for us in South Carolina,” Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter and the former chair of the House of Representative’s budget-writing committee, said last month after a legislative panel finalized the budget.

The spending plan puts $273.5 million more toward K-12 education than last year’s budget, with every district receiving more money for the upcoming year than the previous one.

But Members of the General Assembly highlighted the new flexibility districts will have in deciding where those dollars should go as part of the new formula.

“So the decisions aren’t made here in Columbia,” Smith said. “They’re going to be made locally.”

In many districts, part of that money has to go toward raising teacher salaries to be in line with higher new state minimums, including upping the starting salary to at least $40,000 from the previous minimum of $36,000.

“But there is enough money given to the school districts for them to give all their teachers, regardless of where they are, $4,000,” Smith said. “But that’s not ultimately our decision.”

Some districts are already choosing to pay more than the new minimums.

Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said having those extra dollars is critical to keep salaries competitive in the face of a worsening statewide teacher shortage.

“Many districts that were already paying beyond the new state minimum, like Greenville, like Charleston, have already announced that they will be providing raises of $2,000, $2,500 to all educators,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the changes to K-12 school funding will give the public more insight into where that money is going, with a new statewide dashboard keeping track of those dollars.

It also shifts how money is distributed, sending more dollars to districts that serve a higher number of students who live in poverty and with disabilities.

“If you think of state funding to districts as a pie, the new formula is deterring the size of the slice that each district is going to get, and bigger slices are going to go to lower-income and rural districts,” Kelly said.

A proviso written into the state budget suspends South Carolina’s former funding formula and replaces it with the new one, but only on a temporary basis for as long as the budget is in effect.

Kelly said he hopes it becomes a permanent state law, especially to give districts stability as they work out their own budgets in the future.

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