Saturday, July 2, 2011

Haley's vetoes, legislative debate earn NPR coverage

South Carolina earned more coverage by the national media this week. As usual, it wasn't for the sweet succulence of our peaches.

Hosts of the syndicated "Marketplace" on National Public Radio reported on Thursday that the legislature of Texas "hacked off $4 billion from the education budget" earlier this week. "In South Carolina though, there's a different problem: what to do with all their extra revenue," they reported.

NPR's correspondent Lisa Miller of WFAE in Charlotte reported on the windfall of $210 million in revenues, and quoted Sen. Wes Hayes of Rock Hill saying, "We certainly haven't had surplus money the last few years. We've had the other problem."

Miller mentioned Hayes's proposal to spend "half of the extra money as tax relief for some businesses, and the other half to start making up for past cuts in K-12 education. The state senate voted to increase per pupil spending from about $1,600 to nearly $2,000."

"Still substantially less than where it was a few years ago, but it would be better," Hayes told NPR.

Enter Her Excellency, the Governor.

But two weeks ago, Republican Governor Nikki Haley said that wasn't going to fly.

(Nikki Haley): "The fact that we had additional money going to the senate doesn't mean you go and say 'Oh, where can we spend it and how fast can we spend it?' It means you say, if you're not giving it in tax relief, if you're not giving it to pay down debt, you send it back to the taxpayer."

South Carolina's House agreed to only send $56 million of the extra money to public schools. But even that was too much for Haley. Yesterday, she vetoed the funds. The House votes today on whether to override that veto.

This was another one of those moments that makes South Carolinians cringe to hear our state's name mentioned in national news coverage.

Miller spoke to a Lancaster County principal, Linda Blackwell of North Elementary School, about the impacts of recent annual budget cuts to public schools, include increases in class size and fewer positions for teachers.

Over the past few years, [Blackwell has] had to cut summer school, lay off five teachers and trim work days for remaining teachers. She says, lately, teaching has become much more challenging.

Miller: How many desks are in here?

Linda Blackwell: This is 28 and there's two more here, so that's 30.

Some classes have swelled by almost a third.

Blackwell: You've got to be everywhere and you got to have eyes on everyone and it's hard to do that if you're on one side of the room and someone thinks, 'I'm not going to get called on and it's going to be a little while before she gets over here.'

Whether the extra education money comes through or not, Blackwell is getting ready to prepare her teachers for more of the same next year.

She, and more than a thousand other principals across the state.

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