By Robert Kittle
The South Carolina House, working on next year's state budget, withdrew Tuesday a plan to require all new school buses to have wireless internet, but passed an amendment to prohibit colleges from blocking students' distribution of the U.S. or S.C. Constitutions.
The WiFi plan was to park the buses in central locations to extend Internet access to students and teachers, especially those in rural areas that might not have easy Internet access. But after lawmakers found out the WiFi requirement could add up to $5,000 to the cost of each school bus, the plan was scrapped Tuesday.
The House passed an amendment proposed by Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington, to prohibit state colleges and universities from restricting the distribution of the U.S. Constitution or the S.C. Constitution on campus. He says it hasn't happened here, but a college student in California was prohibited from distributing the U.S. Constitution on a campus in that state.
“Unfortunately, I see a number of colleges and universities putting in speech policies that actually prevent speech or limit speech in such a way that I think they're starting to have an encroaching effect on the First Amendment, and I just want to prevent that before it gets any further,” he said Tuesday.
Colleges would lose all of their state funding if they violated the provision.
Lawmakers thought they would be debating an amendment by Rep. Mac Toole, R-Lexington, to take $1 million from any state colleges that don't ban the use of pornographic content in classes and requiring students to take a class that includes the use of a nude model. But Toole withdrew the amendment Tuesday, saying he had made his point.
Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, put up an amendment to dramatically increase state funding for K-12 schools. His amendment would have spent an additional $537 million dollars, which would raise the per-student spending to the level required by the state's funding formula.
“I just want us to understand that when we're passing this budget that we are over $500 million short of what the law requires to fund public education,” he told his House colleagues. “When it comes to saying and believing education is number one, it shouldn't stop when it's time to write the check.”
But with no way to come up with that money, and without the votes to pass the amendment, he moved to table it.
The House kept in the budget a plan to cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston's budget and more than $17,000 from USC Upstate's for the schools' use of gay-themed reading material in their freshmen reading programs. Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, sponsored the cuts, saying he heard from parents who were upset that their children were not allowed to read alternate books when they objected to the assigned material.
Both schools have said they have since changed their book selection processes to include more public input and review.