Beaufort News

State budget may help balance funding cuts

A state budget passed by the S.C. Legislature on Wednesday includes provisions that -- governor willing -- would help balance out funding cuts and change the way education money is distributed.

For the past three years, Beaufort County has received no funding from a key state education formula, set in the Education Finance Act. State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said this year's budget amends the formula in a way that will boost future funding for local schools.

Unless the EFA law is modified, the reform would have to be approved in each year's budget to have lasting effect. Davis expects that will happen.

"Typically, once you get a proviso in the budget, it's an acknowledgment by the House and Senate that it's good public policy," he said.

This year's budget stipulates if a school district isn't granted money by the formula, it automatically will receive 70 percent of the lowest allocation awarded -- which would mean about $630,000 next year for the Beaufort County School District.

The budget also would distribute about $45 million of one-time aid to school districts for students with disabilities. Beaufort County's share would be about $1.3 million, Davis has said.

Phyllis White, the Beaufort County School District's operational services chief, estimates that even with the additional money, local public schools will still absorb a net $700,000 cut in state funding next year because of decreases in other areas.

But the additional revenue passed Wednesday could help avoid an even greater decline.

Similar provisions in previous years have been axed by state legislators at the last minute. The district did not include the new funds when it presented a budget to County Council last month.

"It was mentioned but was not at a stage where we felt confident it would pass," White wrote in an email.

However, a revised budget approved Tuesday by the Board of Education does include the additional state funds.

Now that the wording has made it through the legislative gauntlet, it must survive Gov. Nikki Haley's veto pen.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

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