South Carolina

Fix for crumbling SC schools passes House

The S.C. House approved borrowing up to $200 million a year Tuesday to renovate crumbling schools and build new ones.

With the 98-5 vote, the bill needs only one more routine approval from the House by Thursday to ensure it reaches the Senate before Sunday’s crossover deadline for legislation, giving it a good chance of passing this year.

Funding for school construction projects would be contingent on how much lawmakers agree to spend in the state budget each year.

One House Democrat expressed concerns the bill does not require the state to borrow the full $200 million a year, only allowing it to borrow up to that much.

“That is a way out,” said state Rep. MaryGail Douglas, D-Fairfield.

But House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said the bill needs to allow for years when the state does not have enough money to borrow $200 million or school districts do not request the full amount.

White said S.C. schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, a Republican and ally of education advocates, worked closely to help develop the proposal.

The legislation is one of several bills aimed at improving the state’s K-12 public schools. Two years ago, the S.C. Supreme Court said some of those schools are so inadequate that they violate the state Constitution.

The legislation provides poor school districts, many rural, with a new source of money to build or renovate school facilities.

Under current law, the state provides no money to school districts for buildings and construction needs. While wealthier school districts have large enough tax bases to pay for maintenance and construction needs, poorer school districts often struggle to raise money locally to improve crumbling school buildings.