[image-1]This week, South Carolina lawmakers approved a spending plan aimed at patching up the state’s low-ranking school system.

The state House and Senate ironed out the kinks in the 2019-2020 state budget on Tues. May 21.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pledged that this would be the year that the legislature would focus on education.

Their efforts, and the legislative session, ended with mixed results. On May 1, some 10,000 teachers and supporters turned out to the Statehouse calling for better funding, higher wages, and smaller class sizes.

This year’s $9 billion budget, which kicks in on July 1, includes $10 million for school resource officers and $2.2 million for school mental health services. It also includes $159 million to raise teachers’ starting pay from $32,000 to $35,000, according to The State. Teachers will get pay raises between 4 and 10 percent, with more money going to newer teachers in an effort to keep them.

A 2019 report by Winthrop University showed that 7,300 S.C. teachers left their jobs at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. About half had been teaching for less than five years.

There are 54,594 positions that will be impacted by the raises, said S.C. Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown. That includes 45,000 teachers, along with counselors, media specialists, and other instructors.

Lawmakers also approved $65 million for maintenance in high-poverty school districts, according to the Post and Courier.

“We are pleased that the General Assembly raised the state minimum for starting teacher pay to $35,000 and passed a four percent across-the-board increase,” Brown said in a statement. “South Carolina must continue to work to ensure that teacher salaries are competitive with our southeastern neighbors and the country as a whole.”

Brown praised the funding for school resource officers and mental health counselors, as well as the elimination of three standardized tests, funding for new school buses, and incentives for consolidation of small school districts.

“Next legislative session we will be continuing to work on the comprehensive education reform package and the modernizing of our antiquated education funding model,” he added.

Other winners in the state budget include state employees, who will get a 2 percent raise and a $600 bonus if they make less than $70,000 a year.

The State Election Commission got $40 million for new voting machines ahead of the 2020 elections, though the agency requested $60 million. Gov. Henry McMaster’s budget proposal included only $5 million for the 14-year-old machines.

On Wed. May 29, McMaster approved most of the budget and upheld the spending for teacher and state employee raises. In total, he vetoed less than one percent of the budget. 

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