Having been around for a while, about 57 years in education, I have seen a bunch of school funding schemes. Obviously, no one of them was perfect. However, they all had one thing in common; they took their state’s history, economy, culture, number of students, and wealth into consideration when making a funding formula.
You really can’t compare a funding formula in California to one in Ohio, Delaware or Montana. The differences are so great that when looking for that magic bullet it is best to just start with no preconceived notions. Take just one variable, such as California’s vast number of foreign language speakers. I was told by a good friend, who taught at a large elementary school in Pasadena that there were over 50 languages spoken by the children.
Throw in special education children, poverty, and geography, and you begin to see how difficult it would be to come up with a formula that would consider all of those variables. There are always political concerns, normally centered on wealthy districts concern about poorer districts getting the bulk of state funds.
In South Carolina, where county governments have final say over a school district’s budget, the political end of things weighs even heavier on how many resources are doled out to the education portion of the county budget. I have been told that there are seven different ways that counties consider funding schools. At this point, I am not sure what that means, but it even sounds confusing.
So, with this prologue in place, what do we do with funding schools in South Carolina?
Here are a few basics about our state that we might consider when creating a way of funding schools.
1. Equitable funding does not mean that all students get the exact amount of funding.
2. Even though some school districts are wealthier than others, they may not be making the same tax effort that poorer districts do. Consider a district where a mil of taxes brings in $65,000 and another district where a mil of taxes brings in $1,000,000.
3. In the more rural parts of the state, where distances are greater, transportation costs rise to a high level of need.
4. Special education has risen, in cost, since 1972 to a very large portion of a school district’s budget. In some states, it is an individual line item in the state budget.
5. Replacing older buildings requires approval from communities. The debt service that results becomes a greater burden in less wealthy school districts. It also becomes a larger part of the district budget.
6. No doubt that poverty y has an adverse effect on children. Recent studies have shown that traumas resulting from lack of food, poor housing and other basic needs are walls to proper education.
7. Some states do not calculate funding based on numbers of children. Hard to believe that is not so. However, because of grandfathered funding, new add ons to funding using a child count do not much affect dollars per child.
8. A formula describing the wealth of the school district in comparison to the wealth of the state is a start to any formula. This can be done relatively easily by using personal income statistics. Using real estate values is a slippery slope.
9. Certainly use number of children. However, one might want to use add ones to the child count for such things as English Language Learners, special education youngsters, and other variables.
10. Help rural schools and those who do not have the capacity to write grants. That could be done in a number of ways- hire consultants from the state level, train staff in local school districts, Provide a “Guide to Write Grants.”
There are so many other possibilities that enter into creating a formula that is fair and equitable for the children of South Carolina. These are just some basic ideas.