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S.C. Proposes Funding Boost

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Two new initiatives announced last month in South Carolina could result in significant increases in funding and major program changes for the state's public schools.

The first, proposed by Superintendent of Education Charlie G. Williams, is a 41-point plan to "accelerate the progress and improvements" in the schools. Mr. Williams's plan stresses early-intervention programs for students with academic difficulties, and increases in teachers' salaries.

That plan was followed by a proposal by Gov. Richard Riley to increase the state's sales tax and to give $60 million in additional funds to the schools. About $30 million of that would go to school districts to enable them to "roll back" property taxes; the rest would be earmarked for specific educational programs.

The two initiatives are separate, but the two branches of government worked closely on them, and many elements are present in both plans, according to Terry Peterson, education director for the Governor.

"It's very exciting to see the state superintendent lay out some really good initiatives, and have a governor who's totally supportive, and all the education groups working together," Mr. Peterson said. "I hope we succeed. It's a high-risk, high-gain proposition."

The tax package and the programs it would fund have the support of educators in the state. But, Mr. Peterson said, they face heavy opposition from those supporting competing bills.

These bills would also increase the sales tax, but would put all of the revenues into property-tax relief, currently a sensitive issue in the state, officials say.

The Governor's tax package has been sent to the legislature, and those aspects of Mr. Williams's plan that require legislative changes will be submitted this session as well.

Both plans stress early-childhood and compensatory education, which state officials say have proved effective in helping disadvantaged children catch up and in warding off future educational problems for these children.

Based on the state's experience with preschool and Chapter 1 programs, Mr. Peterson said, "We're convinced that compensatory programs do make a difference."

Governor Riley's plan would provide about $18 million for remedial programs and an additional $3 million for early-childhood programs.

The two plans also emphasize mathematics and science education. Mr. Williams's plan would add science to the state's list of "basic skills," and would create special training and funding programs for mathematics and science teachers.

Under the Governor's tax package, $3 million would be earmarked for training programs for mathematics and science teachers.--sw

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