COLUMBIA — South Carolina's public school teachers would get a 1 percent cost-of-living increase and state law enforcement could build a new crime lab under a state budget compromise legislators are expected to pass this week.
The tentative agreement reached late Tuesday by a six-member panel also provides K-12 teachers a "step increase" for an additional year in the classroom and ensures none make less than $32,000 a year. That's designed to help fill vacancies in 20 poor, rural districts that start teachers at less.
"It's not enough," Kathy Maness, director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said of the 1 percent boost.
But she's hopeful teachers will receive a bigger raise next year, possibly funded by online sales taxes following last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states can require tax collections from all internet purchases.
Budget negotiators were deciding between a 1 percent or 2 percent increase for the state's 50,000 public school teachers.
"It's a start," Richland 2 teacher Krissy Turner said of the compromise. She was among teachers who came to the Statehouse to lobby legislators, who returned Wednesday for a two-day special session.
"If South Carolina doesn't step up its game, teachers are going to run to different states where they feel supported and appreciated," she said. More pay is only part of the answer, she added.
The state is already facing a teacher shortage crisis. Last school year, nearly 5,000 teachers left the profession, while just 1,700 new teachers graduated from the state's colleges, according to the Center for Education Recruitment, Retention and Advancement.
Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said this year's budget negotiations were particularly frustrating.
"Nobody's happy with it," he said of House and Senate negotiators. But he's glad a compromise was finally reached.
The chambers are expected to vote on the agreement Thursday, just three days before the 2018-19 fiscal year starts July 1. A continuing resolution legislators passed before the regular session ended last month will ensure state government keeps running until Gov. Henry McMaster issues his line-item vetoes.
The compromise includes $54 million to fully fund a new new crime lab for the State Law Enforcement Division. That was among the biggest points of contention.
The Senate had wanted to distribute $20 million of the one-time money to colleges for maintenance, but negotiators took that out.
Also out is the $5 million the Senate put toward the long-planned International African American Museum in Charleston.
The agreement includes $2 million to put certified officers in some of the poorest schools.
McMaster requested $5 million in his budget proposal in January, which would have hired 75 officers. After the mass shooting at a Florida high school on Valentine's Day, he asked the Legislature to immediately fund an officer in every school. But that's estimated to cost $60 million.
The compromise provides $15 million for other safety measures in schools, which can be used for one-time purchases on items such as metal detectors, surveillance cameras and door locks.