Politics & Government

Will SC lawmakers overhaul how K-12 education is funded? New report could pave the way

S.C. lawmakers may have a new road map for paying for K-12 education in coming years.

A new 67-page report, released by the Governor’s Office Thursday, gives the General Assembly four options to choose from, including scaling back state money for school districts in wealthy counties.

But lawmakers will be hard pressed to make such drastic changes, particularly in an election year, that pits winners against losers.

As lawmakers continue to work toward improving the state’s schools, the report becomes another piece of that debate less than a year after 10,000 teachers and their advocates marched to the State House to demand higher pay and better working conditions.

Republicans Gov. Henry McMaster, Senate President Harvey Peeler of Cherokee and House Speaker Jay Lucas of Darlington requested the report in January, asking state economists to address 11 goals that included raising starting teacher pay and merging school districts.

In a statement, the three called the report the most comprehensive study of the state’s antiquated funding formula in recent memory.

“This report proves much of what we believed to be true – the current funding formula is broken,” the joint statement said. “It lacks transparency in how taxpayer dollars flow into our classrooms and demands little accountability for the result.”

What the Legislature winds up doing with the report is the question. The Legislature returns to work in Columbia in January.

In the off season, a seven-member Senate panel that includes the chamber’s majority and minority leaders and is chaired by Sen. Ross Turner, R-Greenville, plans to debate proposed changes to how the state spends money in school districts.

The report will certainly provide data for the subcommittee to work with, said Senate Education Committee chairman Greg Hembree.

But it is not entirely clear whether senators will take the report’s options and back them themselves.

“The challenge we have given them (the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, which created the report) is we basically asked them to come up with policy ideas, and that’s not their function,” said the Horry Republican.

Hembree said he anticipates it will be a two-year project amid the chamber’s other debate over the House’s education bill.

“We need to try and figure out what is our goal and what do we want to try and accomplish?” Hembree said.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.
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