Just days after South Carolina State Superintendent Jim Rex announced his plan for a new statewide property tax, he also introduced befuddled lawmakers and frustrated taxpayers to his “Begin in ’10” program.
Despite two-years in public office, the plan is Rex’s first major attempt at a specific and comprehensive overhaul of a statewide public school system best known for its shameful 55% on-time high school graduation rate.
As the Post and Courier’s Yvonne Wenger reports:
The proposal, which Rex dubbed “Begin in ’10,” calls for immediate flexibility for school districts to juggle budget constraints by furloughing teachers and cutting back on assessment tests for certain students.
Rex also wants to expand 4-year-old kindergarten to all at-risk children, make taxation rates uniform statewide and require money to follow students while allocating additional dollars for children who live in poverty.
Rex’s plan is predicated on two commonly held but misinformed public perceptions:
1. Public schools in South Carolina are underfunded, particularly in low-income communities, and this situation has worsened as a result of the economic crisis
2. Public schools are the most socially just and instructionally effective mechanism for social and economic development in South Carolina, but need more resources.
The facts paint a very different story about public school finances:
Statewide, per student funding in public schools was $11,480 this year, up from $10,556 last year.
Of that money just 44 cents per dollar reaches the classroom in the form of “instructional spending”
The “massive” statewide budget cuts have resulted in a funding decrease of $400 per child, but spending is still $11,000 on average.
Those school districts with the largest number of low-income and minority students actually receive more money than $11,000 – sometimes as high as $18,000 per student
Most surprisingly, many public school districts across actually have huge cash reserves on hand.
The facts behind public school performance, and the failure of public schools to dismantle pervasive social and economic barriers are even more unsettling:
South Carolina is one of the only states in the US where black/white and poor/rich student achievement gaps are worsening rather than improving.
South Carolina’s African-American participation rate and average scores on the SAT and ACT scores have steadily declined in recent years.
Even the wealthiest school districts are producing high school graduates unprepared for college and far behind their North Carolina public school peers.
Jim Rex’s elaborate political posturing is not helping public school students. Rather than merely call for ever-more-money Rex ought to use his position to advocate for a child-centered, parent-driven and cost-saving system of school choice.