Months way from gaveling back into session, state lawmakers will arrive at the General Assembly equipped with one of the most robust looks into South Carolina’s educational funding models in hand.
Last week, the state’s Office of Revenue and Fiscal Affairs delivered to Gov. Henry McMaster, House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Harvey Peeler a 68-page report that outlines funding options and makes suggestions for how the system can be streamlined.
The document follows a pair of letters sent in May and then January by the high-ranking officials to the office asking for the deep dive.
“This represents the most comprehensive study of South Carolina’s education funding formula in recent memory,” McMaster said in a statement.
“This report proves much of what we believed to be true — the current funding formula is broken. It lacks transparency in how taxpayer dollars flow into our classrooms and demands little accountability for the result. A successful South Carolina future requires a new path forward, with each of us working together with parents, teachers, businesses, and local leaders.”
Currently, the state aids public schools based on a 1977 formula created through the Education Financing Act – but it’s a relic that doesn’t keep pace with economic reality.
In offering a new one, Office of Revenue and Fiscal Affairs director Frank Rainwater said a core philosophy was followed.
“The proposed model is based on upon the premise that students drive the need for resources and that while all students require some common resources, some students may require additional resources,” Rainwater said.
A key to the revised financing plan would hinge on reallocating state dollars based on need rather than property tax wealth.
“Equity is targeted in terms of access to resources and impact upon the local tax base. In this model, formulas are used to identify and calculate the same services to like students regardless of location. Further, state and local responsibility for funding these basic services is shared in a manner that equates to the same millage rate in all local jurisdictions for the same level of services,” Rainwater wrote to lawmakers.
For instance, the report notes state payments for property tax relief to school districts average $1,676 per student in Dillon County School District 3 to $4,951 for those in McCormick.
“The formula for funding these programs is based either directly or indirectly on the number of students and a targeted ratio of students to resources. In some programs, the number of students drives the number of required teachers. In other programs, the number of teachers then determines the need for other resources. Equity is targeted in terms of access to resources and impact upon the local tax base,” Rainwater said.
“In this model, formulas are used to identify and calculate the same services to like students regardless of location. Further, state and local responsibility for funding these basic services is shared in a manner that equates to the same millage rate in all local jurisdictions for the same level of services.”