Money Never Has Been the Problem
Some education bureaucrats are pushing a new plan to - suprise, surprise - increase spending by schools that already burn through $9.4 billion every year. Naturally, that plan will be accomplished by raising taxes across the state. Hardest hit will be families and small business owners.
The plan, briefly outlined in The State, is predicated on the replacement of local property taxes for school operation with a new, higher, statewide property rate. In addition to the so-called "swap" between local and state collections, there would be an increase of $947 million in total collections to ensure all districts are roughly equal on a per-student basis.
Schools districts collect revenues from local, state and federal taxpayers. The existing state funding regime takes in to consideration the relative wealth in each school district; school districts serving low-income districts can expect more state aid in order to offset the lower levels of taxable wealth in their communities. While the school bureaucrats that have outlined this new tax increase insist they are pursuing "equality" through the program, they've also been careful to allow individual districts to take on additional local school taxes should the plan become law.
That local tax money, which would allow wealthier districts to supplement the state aid, may well exacerbate the same "funding gap" the new tax plan was ostensible created to combat. Adding to the complexity, most federal funding for K-12 education is already targeted to districts and schools that serve the lowest income population. In other words, total per-student funding levels are often highest at the "poorest" schools.
The real question is not how much money should be slated for government schools –or even where it comes from - but how well the money is being spent and what (if any) correlation there is between the level of funding and the achievement of students.
Data from the Office of Research and Statistics, a branch of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, indicate that as total funding for the public schools in South Carolina has risen, the percentage of that money that reaches the classroom has dropped. In fact, one of the largest drop-offs in so-called “instructional” spending (as a percentage of the total budget) occurred during a massive building spree around the time South Carolina’s controversial Act 388 was passed (another contentious program designed to “reform” the state’s chaotic school funding scheme). No one, not even the most zealous taxpayer-funded advocates for higher school taxes, is arguing that that per-student funding levels in South Carolina ($11,770 for the 2012-13 school year) can be empirically connected to student performance. That’s because there is no data reliably tying student performance to funding levels at any time in any place in the US.
The fact is, South Carolina’s public schools still rate at or near the very bottom of national student performance rankings (SAT, ACT, graduation rate, etc…) and even the so-called best public schools in South Carolina remain uncompetitive with demographically similar schools in neighboring states.
According to a recent Federal report, South Carolina is now ranked 15th in income-adjust per-student spending on public education. Still, four-in-ten students in those public schools will not graduate with a high school diploma. And the best and brightest in the highest performing district still earned average SAT scores 200 points below their peers in North Carolina last year, despite lower testing rates.
Another billion dollars won’t remedy problems on this scale. Pursuing a far-reaching reform on how money is spent would be a better start.