For decades, South Carolina has funded K-12 education through a maze of line item appropriations in the budget. Today’s education budget comes from a long list of acts passed between the 1970’s and last year. From the Education Finance Act to the Education Improvement Act and Act 388, South Carolina’s own alphabet soup consistently dumps money into opaque systems year after year.
This haphazard mix of state, federal, local, and lottery money has created a patchwork of initiatives that aren’t aligned to produce the only outcome that matters: students prepared to succeed in school and life. South Carolina’s children deserve a new approach. It is one we have discussed before: fund students, fix systems.
The difference between funding systems and funding students is a matter of focus. Instead of remaining concentrated on the increases and decreases in the amount of district funding that occurs over the course of the years, focus on how the money allocated per child actually does or does not help the student learn effectively and realize opportunity. Dr. Matt Ladner, author of, “The Way of the Future” helps explain the difference:
“The average American public school student costs taxpayers $4,060 in 1970, but $9,391 in 2006. If schools today were as efficient as those in 1970 were, lawmakers could reduce total state spending and/or tax burdens by 25%. Despite that stunning fact, the public remains largely unaware of the vast increase in spending, and thus consistently supports more spending, both in polls and at the ballot box. Despite the sizable rise in per-pupil funding, much of the public continues to believe that lawmakers ‘underfund’ public schools. ‘The pervasiveness of this assumption that schools are inadequately funded says more about the state of our public thought about education that anything else,’ Jay Greene wrote.
Of course that increase would be tolerable if the quality of education grew accordingly. Sadly, that has not been the case.”
Dr. Ladner’s evidence points to a lack of focus. Most states, including South Carolina, have been more concerned about properly funding the education system, instead of actually funding an opportunity for students to effectively learn. So while overall budgets have increased, students seem to be getting left behind as dollars are diverted out of classrooms into overhead and admittedly well-meaning programs.
From Course Access to Education Savings Accounts there are new innovations that shift the focus of public education funding away from the system and back to the students. This single shift in focus is essential if we’re serious about better education results and real opportunity for students all across South Carolina.