Budget panel boosts student funding, shorts DSS

COLUMBIA — A House budget-writing panel has adopted Gov. Nikki Haley’s request to increase per-pupil funding.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved a budget for K-12 education that calls for boosting base student costs to $2,200. The panel also granted $30 million to help replace the state’s aging school bus fleet.

The panel also approved of a budget that grants about 120 case workers for the Department of Social Services, instead of the more than 200 that the agency had requested.

Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, said the agency’s request to fund so many employees was too ambitious, when it can barely keep its current staff.

“The concern we have is how are you going to hire 202 workers during this time,” Smith said. “When you look at this it’s really difficult to understand how they’re going to accomplish that.”

DSS has been plagued with high turnover rates under the previous leadership of Lillian Koller. A new chief, Susan Alford, was confirmed by the Senate last week. Alford said reducing the turnover rate is among her priorities. The panel did approve, however, a 10 percent pay increase for child protective service staffers, in addition to the 10 percent given to them last year, in an effort to retain more employees.