There is plenty of public money being spent, and it is coming from many different places.
Money for public schools comes from three sources: local, state, and federal governments. Local money is collected through property taxes (and now from the state sales tax based on the tax swap) and local sales taxes. State funding is a complicated function of a “base” student cost, matches of local funds, offsets for counties with smaller tax bases, and a range of programs or categories which assign money to specific programs implemented by schools and districts.
Most state money is tied to a certain account, fund, or program before the local district receives it. Federal money is also provided in the form of grants and programs, and these are calculated on the number and type (income) of the children living in the area that a school serves. Like most state money, federal allocations are not tied to the specific child.
The projected average per-pupil funding in 2009-10 was:
$1, 097 federal
-or- a total of $11,480 per pupil, excluding local bond revenues
$11, 480 per child is a huge sum of money. This is $200 more per student than spending in Georgia and $2,000 more than per-pupil spending in North Carolina. In fact, spending growth in South Carolina since 1960 has been the highest in the entire nation. Total South Carolina K-12 appropriations in 2009 will top $7.9 billion, excluding local bonds.
In recent months, declining state tax revenues have dropped. Superintendent Jim Rex has stated that total cuts to public schools now reach $363 million. On a per student basis that is $500 per child. Total public school spending is still close to $11,000 for every student.
More striking than the $11,000 per-child spending is the fact that South Carolina’s “worst” public schools, those serving the most under-privileged children, are allocated the most money. Because so much federal money is tied to census determined population demographics, Title-I and other programs send thousands of dollars per students to the lowest income areas of the state. This money is often a function of total population, not the number of students actually attending the public schools.
The state also provides supplementary funding to districts with a lower-than-average property tax bases. With all this extra money, some of the most economically disadvantaged students attend schools with more that $20,000 per-pupil in funding. Looking across all districts in the state, higher per-pupil spending is not related with student performance as measured by standardized testing.
Sadly, very little of this appropriate money reaches the child. Analysis by the SC Budget and Control Board shows than since 2000, only 45 cents per dollars reaches the classroom in the form of “instructional” spending. This includes classroom materials, books and supplies, teacher salaries, and other costs directly related to teaching children. The 44-cent figure is a statewide average. Because of the enormous administrative bureaucracies operating in districts throughout the state, the figure in many poor urban and rural counties is even lower.