Education funding for SC in jeopardy

Conway, SC - By Brandon Herring - bio | email

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina will not get $143 million in federal money to help with education unless state leaders can figure out a way to qualify for the money.

The money was approved by Congress last week as part of a stimulus bill. State leaders estimated the money could save 2,000 to 2,300 teaching jobs.

However, when the bill was approved some of the language changed. South Carolina originally qualified for the money because the bill required states to already be spending a certain amount on all education - from kindergarten through public colleges.

South Carolina met that requirement.

When the bill changed it set separate spending requirements for K-12 and public colleges. With spending considered in those separate education categories, South Carolina does not spend enough on public colleges to qualify for the federal money.

Will Garland, senior vice president for finance and administration at Coastal Carolina University, acknowledged state funding for public colleges has decreased in recent years.

"We've taken about a 40 percent cut in state funding, and that's typical for all institutions in the state," Garland commented.

Garland said he would like the state to spend more on the state college system, but he understands the state may not have the money available.

State Sen. Raymond Cleary admitted lawmakers have cut education, but he said the state cannot just change the budget to meet the federal funding requirement. He said more drastic cuts were made in other areas of the state budget, and there is no more money available for education.

He feels the federal money requirement is unfair.

"If we're in a situation where we've had to cut back, we actually should be helped more," Cleary said. "I think that's what they need to review."

Garland is also the chairman on the Horry County School Board, and said if the money is lost, school districts will have to make more cuts next year. Horry County Schools already chose not to fill 120 teacher positions this year and dipped into the budget's fund balance to cover costs.

Garland said the district cannot continue to dipped into that balance.

"We would be able to use that federal money to pay those salaries and those operating expenses and leave our fund balance money available for the future," he explained.

State leaders plan to meet with federal representatives this week to figure out if South Carolina can still get the money. Six other states have also fallen short of the education funding requirements since the language in the federal bill changed.

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