Lindsay Street· 10/04/2019 12:30 pm

By Lindsay Street, Statehouse correspondent  | Can South Carolina improve education by altering how it provides state dollars for local public education?

That’s the question that has prompted a study of education funding that was released this week as well as the creation of a new Senate special committee that will look at possible policy changes on how the state distributes money to school districts.

The S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office released a long-awaited report Thursday that detailed how the state funds public education through myriad avenues. It’s the second report spurred by Gov. Henry McMaster, Senate President Harvey Peeler and House Speaker Jay Lucas, who asked the RFA to study the issue.

Read the new full report.

The report found 78.5 percent of spending in South Carolina classrooms goes directly to instruction in the classroom. In 2019-2020, the per-pupil cost was tabulated at $14,383, a 16 percent increase in the last  four years. About $1,200 of that money comes from the federal government. The remainder is split nearly 50-50 — $6,606 from the state and $6,550 from  local governments.

The report also detailed four way the state could fund districts differently: 

  • Adjusting for districts receiving less state funds.  Option 1 would provide state support of 70 percent of the current education funding model and then would allow for the state to use the remainder to help smaller districts receive more state funds.
  • Per pupil. Option 2 would modify the funding allocation by providing state funding of $3,000 per pupil to every district totaling $2,163.3 million.
  • Removing costs.  Option 3 would remove facilities costs and property tax relief funding from the model, which would mean school districts would fund facility costs solely from local taxes raised. Under this model, the state would foot 66.5 percent of education funding costs, which don’t include facilities expenses.
  • 80 percent. Under Option 4, the state would provide funding for four-fifths of the cost of instruction and facilities. District services — basically district expenses outside classroom instruction, facilities and transportation — are funded entirely by each local district.

Earlier this week, RFA Executive Director Frank Water said the report would “try to avoid policy recommendations.”

New committee gets to work

S.C. Senate Education Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, launched his new committee last week to study and evaluate policy changes for funding education.

“The Fiscal Affairs Office does a great job taking a piece of policy the General Assembly might be considering or pass and quantifying what the policy would cost. That’s their role and what they are really good at,” Hembree told Statehouse Report. “(Setting policy is) a function of the General Assembly.”

Hembree said the committee will be “a couple-year project” in addressing funding education in South Carolina.

“It’s not like the formula is woefully broken. Is it in need of adjustment? Yes,” Hembree said. He said 100-plus funding lines and the spending of more than $14,400 per pupil are “not working so good


NEWS BRIEFS: Report, new committee look at funding changes for public ed