Rex Recommends a Mix of Immediate, Phased-In Changes to School Funding Laws

January 28, 2009

COLUMBIA, SC – January 28, 2009 – State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said today that South Carolina should begin the process of reforming its taxation and school funding systems now so that the state can take advantage of an improved financial infrastructure when the economy rebounds.

Rex presented the Senate Education Committee with a package of recommendations he dubbed Begin in 10 because 2010 would mark a transitional step toward a new foundation program to replace the state’s 30-year-old Education Finance Act.  The recommendations were distilled from the work of two task forces appointed by Rex – one that focused on improving the school funding system and one that focused on changing how the state raises resources to meet its priorities, including education. 

One option would be to do nothing – to delay until times are better, Rex said.  But if we delay, then when the economy begins to turn around and state resources are restored, we’ll just be putting our tax dollars back into a funding system designed back in 1973.  If we agree that the system needs to change – and everyone basically does agree – then let’s start now.

Legislation based on the task force recommendations is likely to be introduced soon, Rex said.  

Among other things, that legislation would:

  • Create a new system of flexible, student-centered funding, rolling up dozens of budget line items currently tied to specific programs and distributing the money instead on a per-pupil basis, so districts can use it in ways that best meet their students’ needs.
  • Pave the way for a modernized foundation program.  Instead of aiming for a minimally adequate education, South Carolina would commit itself to providing the resources needed for students to meet state academic standards rated as among the nation’s most rigorous.
  • Address the fact that students with special needs – students from poverty, students with limited English proficiency, students with disabilities and students who are academically or artistically advanced – require more resources to educate.
  • Codify kindergarten for all at-risk four-year-olds, as ordered in a 2005 court ruling.

Rex said that because the economic crisis makes immediate implementation of all recommendations unfeasible, the legislation directs the Education Department to convene a broad-based group of stakeholders to cost out the components and rank them in priority order.

Budget realities being what they are in this year’s disastrous economy, Rex said, schools won’t have the funding they need to address all of their pressing issues.  But we don’t have to spend the year standing still.  We should act now to reform our state’s broken tax and funding system so that as the economy recovers, we are organized and equipped to use our resources in ways that will move our state forward.

The legislation also would create an 11-member commission to conduct a detailed, comprehensive study of the state’s overall tax structure and make recommendations on an adequate, equitable and efficient state revenue system designed to enhance South Carolina’s quality of life and make the state a stronger competitor in attracting businesses and individuals.

South Carolina needs a tax structure and a school funding system that is adequate, efficient, transparent, secure and sustainable, Rex said.  This plan puts the foundation of this plan in place in 2010 and sets the stage for comprehensive reform over the next few years.  We need to address immediate needs, but we can’t lose sight of where we need to go as a state.

Rex also said that over the long term, South Carolina needs a comprehensive statewide restructuring plan for teacher pay that includes salaries at the national average, incentives for classroom performance and incentives for teaching in schools that are struggling due to high poverty levels or low academic achievement.