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GUEST COLUMN: 2021 state budget is major victory for education in SC
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GUEST COLUMN: 2021 state budget is major victory for education in SC

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In June, the South Carolina House and Senate reached an agreement on this year’s state budget and sent our proposal to the governor.

I served as one of the three members of the House on the budget conference committee, where we negotiated with leaders in the Senate on what would be included in this critical public spending bill.

After months of hard work, we passed a bipartisan budget that makes important investments in the people of South Carolina.

The budget includes a 2.5% pay raise for state employees, which has long been a top priority for me and my Democratic colleagues. In negotiations with the Senate, my fellow House conferees — Speaker Jay Lucas and Chairman Murrell Smith, both Republicans — and I held the line and delivered this well-deserved raise for folks who work so hard in service to our state.

This budget makes big investments in education. It includes major additional funding for our public schools, especially in rural parts of our state. This budget will give all teachers a $1,000 pay raise, increase the base student cost (a measurement of education funding per pupil) from $1,630 to $2,156, expand full-day pre-K education statewide, put a nurse and a school resource officer in every school, further improve school safety by installing more security cameras and keyless entry door locks, and allocate nearly $100 million in funding for school construction in rural areas.

On top of that, this budget provides critical support for South Carolinians pursuing higher education and job training. The budget provides for a complete tuition freeze for in-state students at all public four-year, two-year and technical colleges.

It also allocates $60 million in funding for need-based grants, a 200% increase from the previous budget and $20 million for the Higher Education Tuition Grants Commission, a 100% increase.

This budget also invests in job training programs, such as ReadySC, and funds Workforce Scholarship for folks enrolled in career education programs.

For too long, South Carolina has neglected public education. In rankings of all 50 states, we consistently fall near the bottom of the list. When we do not adequately fund education, we fail our students, our teachers and our communities as a whole.

Democrats believe we can do better. Those of us in the legislature have fought for many years, and it has finally paid off. Many Democratic priorities were included in the budget this year, and the result is an historic investment in the future of South Carolina.

It is my hope that this budget is the start of a new era of public education in South Carolina. Democrats will continue to fight for increased investment in public schools to ensure that our children enter the workforce with the skills they need; not just to survive, but to succeed.

Rep. Jackie “Coach” Hayes, a Democrat, represents Dillon County in the South Carolina House.

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