Bureaucrats look to derail K-12 funding reform

State Department of Education wants to ensure money stays with administrators, doesn’t trickle down to teachers and principals.

Lawmakers are looking to clean-up South Carolina’s outdated and confusing K-12 education funding system.

The dominant proposal at this point is to collapse all the complicated program, grant, categorical, and initiative funding streams into one single and simple formula.

With more than $11,400 allocated per child, the problem is not a lack of money, it is making sure that money actually reaches the kids.

Rather than finance dozens of specific fiefdoms and esoteric programs, each student would have a single dollar total “attached” to them, that would follow the child through the school system. It would take into account the characteristics of the child (such as low-income or special needs) but would follow them if they moved districts, finished elementary school, transfered to a charter, or enrolled at a magnet school.

While this type of “smart funding” or “back-packing” proposal has been advocated by policy experts across the nation, education bureaucrats are fighting back.

In order to defend the entrenched top-down style of the State Department of Education, administrators want to keep local principals and teachers out of the decision making loop. Sandy Smith of the Department testified before the Legislature’s student funding study committee this week. She argued that the existing district-based funding method should be preserved, even if the total money allocated was based on a stricter per-student formula.

This totally undermines the merits of smart funding. Only when the money stream is sent straight to the child are parents and educators free to innovate and improve. Classroom teachers and local principals will always be in the best position to make choices about instruction – not full time administrators at a district office or Columbia-based state employees.

When questioned for further details on solutions for specific funding issues such as the disparities between funding for growing school districts and increased funding for poor school districts – who are already receiving tier three funding – the Department of Education could not provide substantive answers to the committee, and maintained that the status quo model was working well enough.

The messy web of payments to school districts is both chaotic and ineffective.

South Carolina needs better funding, not more funding.

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