Thursday, January 21, 2016

What Does $300 Million in New Funds Mean for South Carolina's Schools? Not Enough

In 2014, South Carolina spent roughly $3.77 billion on elementary and secondary education. This figure also includes federal funding.  The governor's proposal to add $300 million to education a comes out to roughly an 8% increase in education spending.  As noted yesterday, that is still about $520 million below fully funding the state's existing finance formula.  The funding formula critique, however, offers little frame of reference to most.  The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, however, has been doing a great job of tracking education expenditures over the past decade.  Their most recent report shows that education spending in South Carolina is still 10.4% below its pre-recession levels in 2008.  Based on that number, the current proposed increase would not even get the state back to where it was before the recession.  And to be absolutely clear, it was the underfunded and inadequate system prior to the recession that generated this litigation in the first instance.  In other words, the current budget increase, while important, would not appear to even get us back to our prior level of inadequacy.

To be fair, South Carolina, unlike most states, is exerting a relatively decent amount of effort to fund education.  Bruce Baker et al.'s most recent Funding Fairness Report Card indicates that South Carolina ranks 7th in terms of funding effort, which the report concludes is an "A" in normative terms.  Also, to South Carolina's credit, it does not have a regressive funding system that funds wealthy districts more than needy districts.  Its funding formula is roughly flat across districts.  The problem is that the districts that brought Abbeville v. State need far more than flat funding.  They need weighted funding that provides disadvantaged students 30% or more per pupil than the average student.  Thus, in normative terms, Baker's report rates South Carolina's funding distribution as a "C."  While Governor Haley does propose setting aside new funds for these needy districts, it is not a reworking of the formula itself, nor does it appear to be enough to give these students the boost they need.  My guess is that, even with these funds, South Carolina will come in at a "C" next year or narrowly make it into the "B-" range.

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