COLUMBIA, SC — The Senate Finance Committee adopted what one senator calls an “Education Opportunity” budget on March 28 after several days of debate. Unlike the House version of the FY 2018-19 state budget, which all but ignored the needs of higher education institutions and students, the Senate Finance Committee recommended increased funding across-the-board for public colleges and universities, technical colleges, K-12, and student scholarships.
The numbers are still being reconciled, but for independent higher education, in particular, the Finance Committee increased lottery appropriations for the Tuition Grants Commission from last year’s $8,830,008 to $10,000,000, an increase of $1,169,992. The Committee also added $1.5 million in Unclaimed Prizes for PASCAL (Partnership Among South Carolina Academic Libraries). In comparison, the House did not increase funding for either of these programs.
Of significant value for the Tuition Grants program, the Finance Committee increased spending in the state’s need-based grant program managed by the Commission on Higher Education by $10,462,922 to $40 million. Tuition Grants receives roughly 16.5% of funds appropriated to CHE’s need-based program, a figure equal to the percentage of the state’s undergraduates who attend independent colleges and universities. If the additional need-based funds were to stay in the final budget, then Tuition Grants would receive a second appropriation of more than $1.7 million. In total, that is about $3 million more than the House version of next year’s (FY 2018-19) Tuition Grants budget. This year’s request by the Tuition Grants Commission was for an additional $2.1 million to raise the maximum grant from $3,200 to $3,350.
Like the House, the Finance Committee fully funded the Merit Scholarship programs by adding approximately $12 million to cover the second year of the phase-in of the 10 point grading scale. Sen. Harvey Peeler made it very clear in his report that the State cannot continue to fund merit scholarships at the current level of spending. The normal growth of the number of scholarships in the last decade, along with the additional students who now qualify for merit scholarships because of the more liberal 10 point grading scale, has just about exceeded the lottery’s capacity to fund all eligible students.
It is worth mentioning that the 33 public colleges and universities were appropriated $20 million in recurring state funds by the Senate Finance Committee to help slow the rise of tuition for in-state students. The money was apportioned among the higher education institutions and earmarked as “Access and Affordability for In-State Students-Tuition Mitigation Funding.”
The House did not budget recurring funds for public colleges and universities, but did add $50 million in one-time money for deferred maintenance expenses. The Senate Finance Committee’s proposal would keep the $50 million for capital repairs and add $20 million in recurring money.
The Full Senate must approve the Finance Committee’s recommendations, then the budget will undoubtedly go to a Conference Committee of three senators and three representatives. And the Governor will get his shot with his line-item veto. The two versions of the budget will undoubtedly be miles apart, so finding the middle ground needed to reconcile the spending differences will be challenging.
On Wednesday, April 11, more than 100 students from SCICU member colleges and universities will rally at the State House. These students, all Tuition Grant recipients, will meet with their local state legislators and advocate for the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the FY 2018-19 budget. From there, SCICU will turn its attention to educating members of the yet-to-be-named Conference Committee.