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South Carolina officials are reporting a modest increase in the public school graduation rate, although the Palmetto State still ranks 49th out of 50 states in the most recent national rankings.

According to data released this month by the S.C. State Department of Education (SCSDE), the state’s “overall on-time graduation rate” currently stands at 73.6 percent – which is up 1.5 percent from 2010 (but down 4.4 percent from 2003).

Of course these “official” numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, the state data released this month only tracks students beginning in the spring semester of their sophomore year. The department’s own consultants (and out-of-state experts) have consistently pointed out that the biggest problem with respect to dropout rates in the Palmetto state are kids who don’t make it out of ninth grade on time.

Here’s the state data …

(Click to enlarge)

Graph: S.C. Department of Education

A far better indicator is the cumulative promotion index (CPI), which is the metric used in the “Diplomas Count” report – the national standard for graduation rate data.

According to the latest “Diplomas Count” report – released in June by Education Week – only 58.6 percent of South Carolina high school students graduate on time. That’s the second-lowest rate in the entire nation (trailing only New Mexico) and is well below the national average of 71.7 percent.

South Carolina’s abysmal graduation rate is consistent with our declining SAT and stagnating NAEP and ACT scores. Also, a recent report found that more than one-third of the nation’s 100 worst public schools are located in South Carolina.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to education won’t increase graduation rates,” S.C. Superintendent Mick Zais said. “We need creative, innovative, and student-centered solutions that match students with learning environments that meet their needs.”

Um … ya think?

Unfortunately, a comprehensive parental choice plan that would have provided those “student-centered solutions” – not to mention some long-overdue market-based pressure – wasn’t even considered by state lawmakers this year.

Nor was consolidating our top-heavy education bureaucracy or reforming our method of funding so that dollars more closely follow the child.

Instead, our “Republican” governor and “GOP” General Assembly simply dumped a record amount of money into our failed K-12 monopoly. In fact, per pupil funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year is $11,754 per student this year (not counting bonds, investments and transfers) – the highest amount ever.