COLUMBIA – Whether local governments get more funding, 4-year-old kindergarten programs are expanded and assorted Charleston-area items get backing are all expected to be decided during the next two weeks as South Carolina’s General Assembly wraps up its budget and 2014 session.
The S.C. House and Senate have passed versions of the state’s $7 billion general fund budget plan, but much could change as the two bodies negotiate a final version to send to Gov. Nikki Haley, who will also have a chance to weigh in through vetoes. There are many points of agreement, including new funding for K-12 education pushed by Haley.
The Senate version includes more funding for Charleston-area initiatives on a budget “wish list,” dollars that are expected to become available as the budget forecast improves. One significant Charleston-related item is an additional $6 million for a proposed African American Museum and $275,000 for an anti-crime initiative in North Charleston, both pushed by Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston. Higher education initiatives, including dollars for Trident Technical College and the College of Charleston, will also be contested
Kimpson said that the museum offers a chance to tell a story that is unique to Charleston, with ties to the slave trade and early black culture. The museum is being pushed by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who hopes to one day put the pieces together to build a $75 million, 43,500-square-foot showcase of black culture offered in a city that has a unique historical and geographic opportunity to present the story.
Kimpson said that the anti-crime dollars are a response to the spate of shootings in recent months in North Charleston. The money would be broadly directed, and Kimpson said if the money is approved, he will work on allocating it toward after school programs and other “meaningful activities” to try to tackle the crime issue. Kimpson said he plans to work with community leaders to figure out how the money should be directed.
Charleston is perceived as getting too much attention and dollars in the state budget, which can make it difficult for such items to gain support. “When you say something is for Charleston, everyone gets in a tizzy,” Kimpson said.
Both chambers allocated more to students in poor, rural districts without taking money away from other districts that are able to better equip classrooms through local property taxes. Changes include a first-ever weighting for poverty, which translates to an additional $97 million spent on students who qualify for free- and reduced-price meals. It would also spend 20 percent more on children whose primary language isn’t English and therefore need one-on-one help.
Elements adopted from Haley’s budget proposal include $30 million to hire additional reading coaches in elementary schools and $29 million to improve Internet and wireless capabilities in schools.
The Senate has also included funds for a “Read to Succeed” program. The initiative is aimed at ensuring students can read by fourth grade and a coordinated focus that includes reading coaches, summer reading camps and teacher training.
Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, students still struggling to read by the end of third grade would be held back for intensive help.
Senators also have fought for more funding for local governments as both chambers have contemplated. Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, hoped to restore $16 million to the local government fund this year, but instead the money was allocated by the Senate Finance Committee toward expanding kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds.