Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton called the current Educational Funding Act (EFA) formula grossly unfair and said it must be changed.
He cited the example of Greenville County School District, which has an annual school budget of $198 million, of which state of South Carolina pays $150 million.
By comparison, Beaufort County’s annual school budget is $170 million and “not one cent” comes from EFA funds. Beaufort County must obtain $120 million of its budget for schools from county property taxes.
Newton stated that the current EFA formula is based solely on each county’s property values and does not take into account other important factors such as resident wages or the number of students on free or subsidized lunches. (50 percent in Beaufort County).
Beaufort County is below average in South Carolina in both categories.
“While the EFA formula was fair when it was first introduced years ago, it is no longer given the various properties that are excluded from consideration in the index of tax paying ability,” he said. “We no longer have an index that measures apples to apples in all of the 85 different school districts.”
During the 2009-10 legislative term, some work was done on revamping EFA. However, it died in committee.
Newton said that Beaufort County has hired a law firm to do research on all factors that should be considered by lawmakers for funding K-12 public education next year.
He went on to say that he hopes that fair and equitable funding legislation will follow in 2010. However, failing that, the county may have no other choice than to sue the state.
Tom Hatfield is a retired marketing executive living on Hilton Head. He is actively involved in the S.C. Charter School Movement and S.C. tax simplification issues.