It is no secret that our state is undergoing dramatic budget cuts.
It has been the Republicans’ position from day one that government – like every household – must live within its means. That means during tight budget years, the answer is to cut the size of government, not raise taxes to cover our budget deficits. That is a position that I know my constituents share, even if that means we must cut services to balance the state budget.
Nobody who is reliant on tax dollars wants to see their budget cut, and there has been much misinformation about cuts to our K-12 education system in recent weeks.
Here are the facts.
The House Republican Caucus believes that education is a core function of government and when we cut government, we need to make those cuts targeted and specific. We have done that by holding education as harmless as possible, while making much more dramatic budget cuts to every other state agency.
According to the State Department of Education, while we have cut education over the past two years, the average teacher salary has increased over the past two years, and the average teacher salary is 25 percent higher today than it was 10 years ago. Today in our state, teachers make more than $47,000 per year, on average.
For the next school year, the House budget cuts public education by $91 million, but the schools will receive $174 million in federal “stimulus” dollars.
We instructed the school districts to spend at least 70 percent of their money in the classroom.
We suspended testing that is not required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Districts are not only receiving state and federal funds through the state Department of Education, but they are also receiving “stimulus” money directly from the federal government that is not included in these numbers.
Public education accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state budget.
The General Assembly has also given the public schools unprecedented freedom to spend state dollars in the best way to improve education. We have freed them from numerous state regulations and rules that dictate where schools must spend money, trusting that districts, superintendents, and principals will put that money toward educating students.
The bottom line is the General Assembly is working very hard to do everything we possibly can to keep these budget cuts from affecting our children, whether that is in the public schools or in health care. Educating our children, and improving the quality of education they receive, is a core Republican Caucus priority for this year.
Raising taxes to cover our budget shortfall is not an option – especially when so many South Carolinians are simply looking for work to provide for their families. Adding an additional tax burden is not what our state needs to win in the future. That’s why Republicans knocked down more than $7 billion in tax increases proposed by Democrats during the recent budget debate. (The entire state general fund budget is only $5.1 billion this year.)
Those are the facts, and while cutting state spending and cutting services hurts many people in these lean times, our state will be much stronger for our austerity in the future.