Schools in the Lakelands might have more money coming to them if lawmakers approve Gov. Henry McMaster’s 2021 budget.

The governor wants to expand access to full-day 4-year-old kindergarten programs for Medicaid-eligible children. This has been a process for South Carolina legislators for seven years, as they promised back then to fully fund the program.

McMaster’s administration predicts that the expansion of the 4k program would help 13,000 lower-income children in 18 districts be able to attend school.

“By unleashing the free market into early childhood education with the entry of new providers, eliminating burdensome regulations and increasing the reimbursement rate, South Carolina’s at-risk children — with each passing year — will increasingly arrive at school prepared and eager to learn and on track to make continued, life-long learning progress,” McMaster said in the proposed executive budget.

Also in the proposal is $60 million dollars to help need-based students attend college. Students who collect Pell Grants would be eligible for the additional funds. Pell grants are federal government grants to help students with financial need attend college.

Adam Taylor, vice president for strategic initiatives at Lander University, said the funding would help students in the entire state.

“It is significant to see a three-fold increase. To go from 20 to 60 (million), it’s pretty incredible,” Taylor said.

Taylor explained that an overlooked part of the proposed budget is the Capital Reserve Fund, which has allotted $176,095,044 to capital improvement projects for maintenance of buildings of higher education. This is for deferred maintenance, not new construction.

Piedmont Technical College would receive $5,378,761 and Lander would receive $3,747,698 for capital improvement projects, under this proposal.

Bettie Rose Horne, a member of the state Commission of Higher Education, applauded McMaster’s proposal and said this is an investment rather than an expense.

“These students will go on to work and pay taxes in South Carolina,” Horne said.

There is an additional $20 million for private, independent and historically Black colleges and universities.

PTC President Hope Rivers said this funding would help the students immensely.

Rivers said there are 380 students who receive need-based grants. About 90% of students at PTC receive some type of financial aid, according to Russell Martin, PRC director of marketing and public relations.

"There are needs beyond the aid that is currently being provided and we appreciate what the state is doing to address those needs," Martin said in an email. 

This funding would cover education-related expenses such as tuition and books, Rivers explained.

“It would decrease the need for students to take out student loans,” she said.

Under the proposed budget, there will be a $60 million allotment for job readiness training, which includes programs such as ReadySC that works with technical colleges across South Carolina to provide workforce training programs.

The governor also allotted $35 million so schools can continue with step increases for teacher salaries.

The money earmarked for education in the budget would be in addition to programs such as the Greenwood Promise, SCWins and the education lottery, which are all programs to help students in South Carolina achieve the goal of a college education.

Rivers said at PTC, all a student has to do is fill out a FASFA and the financial aid office will help them navigate their eligibility.

Contact staff writer Megan Milligan at 864-943-5644 or follow her on Twitter @ij_megan.