COLUMBIA, SC — The second regular session of the 122nd South Carolina General Assembly began on January 9, 2018. One week later, Katie Harrison, executive director of the South Carolina Higher Education Tuition Grants Commission, presented the Commission’s budget request for FY 2018-19 to the House Ways and Means Committee’s Higher Education subcommittee.
Securing an additional $2.13 million for the Tuition Grants Program is the first legislative priority for both the Tuition Grants Commission and SCICU (SCICU’s 2018 Legislative Strategic Plan and 2018 Legislative Priorities and Quick Facts are available on the Advocacy page of SCICU’s website.). Tuition Grants are need-based grants available to South Carolina residents who attend in-state, private non-profit colleges or universities. The South Carolina Tuition Grants Commission requested an additional $2.13 million from the subcommittee in order to increase the maximum individual student award from $3,200 to $3,350 for the academic year beginning in August 2018.
SCICU’s second legislative priority supports full funding for the state’s merit-based scholarship programs (Palmetto Fellows, LIFE, and HOPE). This year the state merit-based scholarship programs cost an estimated $300 million. These programs are funded primarily by the Education Lottery. Unless changes are made to the programs’ eligibility or award criteria, scholarship funding may have to increase by as much as $20.4 million to accommodate an additional 8,000 students who will qualify under the second year phase-in of the high school grading policy which changed to a 10-point scale from a 7-point scale in 2016.
SCICU also supports the Commission on Higher Education’s request for an increase of $1 million in a need-based grant programs for public college students and $1.5 million for the Partnership Among South Carolina’s Academic Libraries (PASCAL)
The Ways and Means Committee has set aside the week of February 20-22 to complete the final committee draft of the FY 2018-19 state budget. A key factor in establishing next year’s spending will be the General Revenue Forecast prepared by the State Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, which is due on February 15.
While revenues have generally been up, new revenue will not be enough to cover the growing demand for government services and programs. In addition to outstanding needs identified by state agencies and public colleges and universities, legacy needs like funding for teacher and public employee pay raises, schools in the I-95 corridor, an underfunded state pension system, and the needs of local governments must be addressed. Also outstanding is the potential impact that federal taxes cuts will have on the State’s ability to collect revenue.