Nikki Haley Wants South Carolina to Invest in K-12, Not 'Bloated Higher Education'

by | January 21, 2016

By Andrew Shain

Gov. Nikki Haley asked S.C lawmakers to put more attention on fixing K-12 schools, rather than spending more money on the state's colleges, during her State of the State address Wednesday.

Haley advocated borrowing $200 million to repair K-12 schools, a year after opposing borrowing for a number of other projects, including, she said, "hundreds of millions of dollars to fill a wish list for our already bloated higher education system."

"No one can look at the tuition hikes parents and students have seen over the last decade and tell me that higher education doesn't have enough money," the Republican governor told the GOP-controlled Legislature.

"And no one can drive the campuses of Clemson, South Carolina and so many others, see the brand-new facilities and massive new construction projects, and tell me that they represent our greatest need.

"That is not true of elementary, middle and high schools in Denmark. Or Clarendon. Or Abbeville," said Haley, who has spent the past year looking at colleges for her daughter, a high-school senior. "But if we don't focus on K-12, and focus on it now, higher education won't even be a possibility for far too many South Carolina children."

Haley also called for letting the governor appoint the state superintendent of education.

To end high turnover among teachers in rural and poor school districts, she proposed to pay for the state college tuition of teachers who agree to spend eight years in rural or poor districts.

"Children deserve to know that teachers believe in them enough to stay," Haley said. "We have to slow this revolving door."

'Angels living here on Earth'

Haley also used the 41-minute speech to share her plans to fix the state's roads, curb domestic violence and make lawmakers more accountable. She also spoke about how the state handled tragedies last year.

The shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston dominated the governor's address. A self-avowed white supremacist was charged with killing nine parishioners, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper Democrat who was the church's pastor.

She asked legislators to follow Pinckney's example as a lawmaker.

"I knew him to be a man who never seemed to speak against anyone or anything but, instead, to advocate for the people and the ideas that he believed in," she said with Pinckney's family in the gallery. "We should all spend a little more time getting to know the people behind the policies."

Haley read the names of the nine victims killed at the church and acknowledged the three survivors, two of whom attended the address. "For reasons only God knows, we lost nine amazing souls that night," Haley said. "So too, for reasons only He knows, God decided He wasn't ready to take three more, that He still had work for them to do."

Haley became emotional after delivering those lines. Her voice started to shake, and she took a sip of water.

"These two women, and the precious little one who was with them that night, are proof that we have angels living here on Earth," Haley said ,fighting back tears in the House chamber.

Haley's speech did not address her successful call to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds after the Charleston shooting. The issue divided the Legislature, especially the House, which debated more than 12 hours before voting to banish the Civil War banner.

Haley also thanked the family of Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American motorist who was killed by a white North Charleston police officer last year, for helping the state focus on "justice and progress," avoiding civil unrest.

"They started the calming of our community," she said with Scott's family in the House gallery. "Their words and actions allowed South Carolina the chance to right this wrong, the best we could, without the influence of outsiders."

The governor also praised the work of state leaders in handling October's historic flood.

"This team knew they couldn't sleep until we made sure we had done everything in our power to keep people safe, provide aid to those in need, and strengthen our citizens with the information and the resources to move forward," Haley said.

But she did not mention requests by farmers who asked her to seek federal aid after they lost more than $300 million in crops. Haley has said she did not want to play favorites among business owners hurt in the storms.

'What the vote might look like'

On road repair, the top issue with many lawmakers, Haley insisted she would veto a bill that does not roll back state income taxes or reform the agency that sets road priorities. She did not mention that her proposed budget includes the start of a 10-cent-a-gallon state gas tax hike to help pay for road repairs and a far larger income-tax cut.

On domestic violence, Haley offered recommendations she unveiled two weeks ago, included adding prosecutors so police officers no longer have to prosecute some cases.

"Domestic violence is an issue that has plagued us for far too long," she said. "Tonight, I say it will plague us to that extent no more."

Haley clearly was aggravated at the failure again of lawmakers last year to pass stricter ethics laws.

The House passed ethics bills, but the proposals sat in the Senate. Most senators have balked at allowing anyone but other senators to investigate allegations against them.

The governor went off script during her address, asking senators who back income disclosure and independent investigations to stand. Some House members rose to applaud the few senators who stood.

"This is what the vote might look like," Haley said.

(c)2016 The State (Columbia, S.C.)