In mid-March staff members at the State Legislature released a twenty-one page summary of H.4800 and H.4801, the House’s version of the proposed State Budget. On page three (“Public Education and Special Schools”) the summary explains:
“The total pupil count is 690,363; and projected average per pupil funding is $4,867 state, $1,097 federal, and $5,516 local for a total average funding of $11,480 excluding local bond issue revenues.”
If passed, the South Carolina public schools will spend $11,480 per pupil for the 2008-09 school year. Nearly half of that money will come from the state government. This figure is almost two and a half times greater than the cost of educating children in private schools, where the national average tuition is $4,689 per year, according to the Center for Education Reform.
But Jim Rex still complains that most public schools are “underfunded and undersupported.” Earlier this month he talked about a mythical “$9,000” disparity in per pupil funding across districts. While the $9,000 figure is totally unsubstantiated, he may have a point about underfunding: If you consider how large the total per student appropriation is, the amount of money that actually filters down to the classroom is (relatively) tiny.
Because of the disingenuous reporting tactics of the State Department of Education it is hard to find a single authoritative figure for instructional spending. In fact, the numbers released by the federal government don’t match those reported by the state (who themselves submit their numbers to the Feds).
For each tax dollar appropriated to K-12 education, how much makes it to the classroom? Here are the Government’s best guesses:
58 cents (SC Education Department’s In$ite tables, excluding debt and construction)
49 cents (DOE’s National Center for Education Statistics)
45 cents (SC Education Department’s In$ite tables, including debt and construction)
44 cents (SC Budget & Control Board’s Local Government Finance Report)
While 14 percent is a huge disparity in the reported numbers, the real story is that of the $11,400 the SC House wants to spend on each public school student only $6,612 will reach the classroom in the best-case scenario. More likely, the number will be $5,051.
Even the $5,051 figure is $632 more than the average tuition fee at a private school in United States. In other words, using the proposed House Budget total appropriation, South Carolina could send every child in the public schools to an academically superior private school, give them an additional check of $362 for books and supplies, and then still have enough tax revenue remaining to fully fund all the administrative and non-instructional support staff at the state and district level.