SC governor proposes overhaul to school funding formula
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s governor is proposing a simplification of the formula the state uses to pay its portion for public schools.
The new formula Gov. Henry McMaster will put into his budget plan submitted to lawmakers later this month will increase flexibility and accountability and help out poorer districts, his education staff said.
The proposal sends money based on student-teacher ratio and minimum teacher salaries instead of the confusing arrays of formulas currently used.
McMaster’s budget adds $120 million to the $3.4 billion being sent to local school districts to assure that 72 of the 79 districts will get more state money next school year. The remaining seven districts should remain at the same level, the governor’s office said.
The formula sends money to schools based on a ratio of 11.7 students to every teacher. It then pays districts $66,524 per teacher needed, which is the median pay for South Carolina teachers. It also increases funding for certain groups, like children in special education programs.
The biggest change is raising the amount of extra money given to districts for students in poverty by two-and-a-half times per child, according to the governor’s plan.
Districts can increase the student-to-teacher ratio and have wide latitude on how to spend the money, whether it be on administrators, special programs or better teacher salaries.
What the governor wants in exchange is accountability and his budget proposal would require audits by state-approved auditors, budgets published on school districts websites and searchable expenditures with a goal to try to figure out why some districts are better preparing students for college or getting students proficient in reading quicker.
The governor’s staff said they want to be flexible with the new formula and work with lawmakers when they return Tuesday for the 2022 session.
McMaster joined with House Speaker Jay Lucas and then-Senate President Harvey Peeler in a 2019 request for ways to revamp the education spending formula sent to the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, which forecasts how much money the state will collect and predicts how much proposed programs will cost.
The agency’s report came out six months before the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s plan is a scaled-down version.
One thing the new plan doesn’t address is a 2006 law that limited how much local governments could raise property taxes and how quickly those taxes could rise when property values increased.
Schools are dependent on property taxes and those caps squeeze their ability to raise money, especially in poorer, smaller districts where there aren’t as many businesses to shoulder the tax load.
The governor’s office said his plan is a first step he hopes will eventually get to a total overhaul of school funding.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.