The way we fund education in South Carolina needs to be changed, and thankfully that seemed to be the consensus at a superintendent of education candidate forum in Myrtle Beach this weekend.
The system our state currently has in place is too varied and too complicated for it to effective and equitable.
Lawmakers have in recent years pushed for a more uniform way to fund education, but so far, those plans haven’t been moved forward. In the next legislative session, we urge lawmakers to work with the next superintendent of education — whomever replaces retiring superintendent Mick Zais — to pursue education funding reform, and aim to make it more consistent and simplified.
Bills have been proposed at the Statehouse in the past that would have created a much more even funding distribution, while also providing property tax relief for businesses. This would be a wise measure.
S.C. Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, has led the bipartisan effort to transform such funding in the state, but so far, it hasn’t gained enough traction to become law.
“You can’t under fund a poorer school district and expect them to excel and do better than what they’re doing,” Horne said. “If you look at the statistics and you look at places like Florida where they’ve made great gains in education, they’re spending $6,000 a pupil. That’s not what we’re doing here.”
Currently, South Carolina is spending between $2,500 to $17,000 per pupil, according to Horne, depending on which of the 85 school districts you’re looking at in the state.
Funding education in South Carolina is currently tied to too many revenue streams, and millage rates throughout the state are too diverse for all students to be afforded the same education.
School districts in Greenville and Charleston, for instance, benefit greatly from their manufacturing base and the property tax revenue that they rake in every year. Aiken County also benefits, particularly with businesses such as Bridgestone that have located here.
But smaller counties, and particularly more rural counties, have a much harder job adequately funding education in their school districts.
Obviously, equal funding isn’t a fix-all for our state’s education problems, and doesn’t guarantee every classroom in the state will be the same.
But it’s imperative that the discussion of equitable funding takes place and that it’s the first part of a larger discussion the state needs to have to curb education problems.
Making transformative changes to the state’s education also hinges on a landmark, yet undecided South Carolina Supreme Court case – Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina – that could be decided by the end of the year. Depending on how, or even if, the case is resolved, it could mean the state makes a greater push to ensure rural school districts are provided greater resources.
The case was originally brought in 1993 when roughly half of South Carolina’s school districts sued the state for what they saw as a failure to adequately address student needs and provide a quality education. Although much has changed in 20 years, about two in five students currently attend rural schools in South Carolina, and many of the same problems, including financial difficulties, still exist.
If the case is resolved soon, it will give lawmakers a better sense of what kind of education reforms to pursue in Columbia. We hope the first step is trying to provide adequate funding for schools throughout the state.