A group of state senators began last week a formal review of how South Carolina funds public education.
The overall consensus was that change is needed but there was no agreement on what form that change should take.
The Senate Select Committee on Funding Reform met Sept. 21 and listened to different ways public education in South Carolina could be funded. Among those on hand were state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and Bill Gillespie, the state’s chief economist.
For nearly four hours the panel listened to different possible ways to fund public education in South Carolina.
The panel was made up of Wes Hayes, R-York; Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington; John Matthews, D-Orangeburg; Luke Rankin, D-Horry; Mike Fair, R-Greenville; Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee; Darrell Jackson, D-Richland; and Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.
Rex stressed that the state’s education funding system was broken even in times of prosperity and was unable to deliver what was needed.
There seemed to be agreement that there is just not enough money to go around.
All speakers stressed that Act 388 needs to be reformed because the property tax will remain the most stable source of funding. However, with all the exemptions offered by Act 388, the schools are not getting all funding needed, speakers said.
Gillespie stated that during the 1984-85 school year the local property accounted for 30 percent of the total school revenue.
Since the passing of Act 388 in 2006, the local property tax has averaged 35 percent of the total school revenue, even with all the tax cuts. Also, during the 1984-85 school year the Education Finance Act (or EFA) contributed 37 percent to the total school revenue, whereas last year it only contributed 14 percent.
Gillespie stated flatly, “The system does not make sense anymore.”
When asked if South Carolina should start from scratch, Gillespie responded that what is being done now won’t work in the future.
He suggested a very straightforward solution: Take the given state dollars and appropriate them to each district based on need. The least-developed districts will get more money per pupil than the higher developed.
Also, stressed was the idea that state funding will erode over time and a new revenue source is needed, with the idea that it should be based on individual income taxes.
While there were a variety of proposals for a new funding system, no decisions were made during the meeting.
However, it seemed clear that instead of aiming for a “minimally adequate” education, South Carolina must commit itself to providing the resources needed for students to meet state academic standards rated as among the nation’s most rigorous, the speakers said.
The Select Committee on K-12 Education Finance Reform is schedule to meet again at 10 a.m. today.
Trevor Lightbody can be reached at 779-5022, ext. 106.