COLUMBIA – The S.C. House passed its version of the state’s $9 billion budget this week, including a proviso that would temporarily close Denmark Technical College and re-open it as an area trade school.
Now the budget heads to the Senate, where Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said lawmakers will be looking at the issue.
“Given the circumstances that exist, I think everybody is trying to make sure that the institution continues to an education mission for the training of young people to get jobs,” Hutto said.
“Obviously, the goal is to make sure young people in Bamberg, Barnwell and Allendale access to and an opportunity to get a technical college education,” Hutto said.
Denmark Tech has faced financial issues in recent years, with some directly linked to a steady decline in enrollment.
The proviso would close the college and task a nine-member committee with studying it. The committee would report its findings to the Senate Finance Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, the Department of Education and the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education by Oct. 1, 2019.
Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, says closing the school and converting it into an area trade school would a negative impact economically. It would also negatively impact the school’s current students, faculty and staff.
Govan is chair of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus, which opposes the proviso.
During the House’s budget debate this week, Govan offered several budget amendments to solve the school’s financial problems.
“We put up an amendment to provide funding … for things like maintenance and facility upgrades for the school, and also monies for programmatic things and upgrades in terms of equipment,” Govan said.
One amendment would provided $500,000 for the institution’s operating costs, and the other provided $450,000 for workforce training.
“Part of the issue with Denmark Tech, and in terms of this whole notion of the school being able to meet the needs of its students, centers around its ability to provide training and services that are modernized. What we were trying to do there is provide them with the resources so they can upgrade and modernize their equipment,” Govan stated.
“The whole point was to put them on a level playing field when it comes to providing the services and make it competitive when it comes to the other technical colleges,” Govan said.
Govan said the line items in the amendment were comparable to budget line items for other technical colleges.
“There were about four or five other technical schools that had separate line items aside from the money that was put into one pot for all of them,” Govan said.
“One of the concerns we had is how can you single out these other schools for additional funds and special treatment, when you know you a situation down at Denmark Tech when every year it seems to be a problem with providing them with the funding that they need in such a needed portion of the state when it comes to economic development,” he stated.
Govan also offered an amendment that would provide the school with $5 million from the Rural School District and Economic Development Closing Fund for facility upgrades and training equipment.
The amendments failed.
The House version of the state budget was passed with a vote of 100-2. Now, the budget will go to the Senate.
Govan hopes the House’s plan for Denmark Tech will not be included in the Senate version of the budget.
South Carolina’s other technical colleges would to subsidize Denmark Tech to keep it open, Hutto said.
“In talking to representatives and senators around the state, they’re not inclined to do that,” he said.
Hutto noted that Orangeburg-Calhoun Tech would pay $70,000, Trident Tech would pay $300,000 and Midlands Tech would pay $250,000 to prevent Denmark Tech from having a budget deficit.
Hutto said the Senate will look at the institution's needs and the possible programs that can be offered to attract students and increase enrollment numbers.
“We’ll take a look at it when it gets to the Senate,” Hutto said.