CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) — A new state budget was launched Friday, at the start of South Carolina’s new fiscal year, and comes with a major overhaul of how public schools are paid.
Governor Henry McMaster and former state superintendents of education had called South Carolina’s way of funding its schools “opaque,” “convoluted,” and “fractured.”
Lawmakers said the new school funding formula effective Friday streamlines that process and gives districts more freedom to determine how to spend their money.
“I think it’s transformational for us in South Carolina,” House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter and former chairman of the House of Representatives budget drafting committee, said last month after a legislative panel has finalized the budget.
The spending plan allocates $273.5 million more to K-12 education than last year’s budget, with each district receiving more money for the coming year than the previous one.
But General Assembly members pointed to the new flexibility that districts will have to decide where those dollars should go under the new formula.
“So the decisions aren’t made here at Columbia,” Smith said. “They will be made locally.
In many districts, some of that money is to be spent on raising teachers’ salaries to bring them into line with new, higher state minimums, including raising the starting salary to at least $40,000 a year. compared to the previous low of $36,000.
“But there is enough money given to school districts to give all of their teachers, wherever they are, $4,000,” Smith said. “But it’s ultimately not 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 keeping salaries competitive in the face of worsening teacher shortages statewide.
“Many districts that were already paying above the new state minimum, like Greenville, like Charleston, have already announced they will be offering raises of $2,000, $2,500 to all educators,” Kelly said. .
Kelly said changes to funding for K-12 schools will give the public a better sense of where that money is going, with a new statewide dashboard to track those dollars.
It also changes how the money is distributed, sending more dollars to districts that serve more students living in poverty and with disabilities.
“If you treat state funding to districts as a piece of cake, the new formula dissuades the size of the slice each district is going to get, and larger slices will go to low-income and rural districts,” Kelly said.
A proviso in the state budget suspends South Carolina’s old funding formula and replaces it with the new one, but only on a temporary basis while the budget is in effect.
Kelly said he hopes it becomes permanent state law, particularly to give districts stability in developing their own budgets in the future.
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