There is a big report in The (Charleston, S.C) Post and Courier this morning about how struggling government-run schools in South Carolina are planning on spending a whopping $3 billion in federal coronavirus “stimulus” funds.
This money – which comes on top of existing federal aid – has been earmarked in the hopes of getting struggling students “back on track.”
Not surprisingly, the Post and Courier report revealed that this money is being routed into a host of new government programs … initiatives which will be overseen by the same bureaucrats who have presided over the Palmetto State’s atrocious academic outcomes for the past two decades.
Anyone care to guess how this is going to shake out?
To their credit, Post and Courier reporters Seanna Adcox and Libby Stanford were uncharacteristically unflinching in calling out the state’s failing local education bureaucracies – criticizing their lackluster, “jargon-heavy” plans regarding this one-time windfall of cash.
Specifically, they chided school districts for submitting spending plans that were heavy on “bureaucratic edu-speak” and marked by a lack of uniformity as well as an “overall lack of discernible innovation.”
“None seem particularly ambitious,” they concluded … even as they referred to the massive stockpile of new federal cash as “potentially transformational.”
Adcox and Stanford also pointed out the glaringly obvious reality that “academic performance in South Carolina was abysmal before COVID hit,” citing test scores which showed that less than half of the state’s third through eighth graders were performing at or above grade level in math and reading in 2019.
“That’s fallen to an estimated 30 percent this year,” they observed.
Given the extent to which mainstream media outlets in the Palmetto State have historically coddled the education establishment, such public criticism is surprising … and refreshing.
Still, the Post and Courier report failed to provide vital context in terms of the ever-escalating investment in “public education” in South Carolina – i.e. the steadily increasing stream of non-emergency tax dollars being routed to failing government-run schools on an annual basis. It also provided absolutely nothing resembling an alternative to the status quo – which consists of giving more tax money to the same officials who have been underserving students and parents (and to some extent teachers) in this state for generations.
So I don’t want to give the paper too much credit …
After all, this report left readers with the distinct impression that leaving this money within the public system was somehow still an efficacious endeavor. You know, if educrats settle upon sufficiently convincing jargon.
Nothing could be further from the truth …
Here is the bottom line math: According to the state budget which went into effect four days ago, government-run schools in the Palmetto State are spending a record $15,276 per child during the 2021-2022 fiscal year – an increase of 7.37 percent from the previous fiscal year. That adds up to a staggering $11.69 billion for the year – another new record.
Worth noting? This total does not include any of the $3 billion in “emergency” coronavirus funding discussed above – or the $330 million in Covid-related appropriations already doled out. Nor does it include money borrowed by local governments in the form of bonds. It also does not include the estimated $1.53 billion in unrestricted cash reserves that school districts were hoarding as of June 30, 2019 – a total that soared by nearly $200 million from the previous fiscal year.
Getting the picture?
Since its inception over a decade ago, my news outlet has challenged the Palmetto State’s failed status quo on multiple fronts – including its bottom-of-the-barrel government-run school system. Over that time, I have championed broad-based school choice for all students – arguing that every child should be empowered to escape an academic environment that is not meeting his or her needs. Such universal parental choice would also impose upon the government-run school system precisely the sort of market-based accountability it desperately needs if it is ever to show sustained improvement.
I haven’t stopped there, though. I have aggressively called out so-called “Republican” leaders who claim to be for market-based reforms … yet always seem to come up short when it comes time to advocate for them.
Sadly, state leaders have not listened … and the charade has continued.
So … here is a novel idea: Rather than plowing this $3 billion into a system that clearly doesn’t need the cash – which has actually proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will waste the money on more of the same failed bureaucratic approaches – why not use this one-time infusion to launch a new voucher/ tax credit fund to help low- and middle-income students escape failing school districts? In other words, rather than doing what South Carolina always does with respect to education funding – which is to throw good money after bad – why not try something that has proven successful everywhere else it has been implemented? Something which would provide the sort of real-word accountability that government is unwilling or incapable of providing?
I know … that makes too much sense, doesn’t it?
The Post and Courier is right about one thing: The $3 billion in one-time money set to arrive in government-run school coffers this year is indeed “potentially transformational.” But such a “transformation” will only take place if this money is removed from the state’s failed government-run system and placed in the hands of parents and guardians ready to insist upon better for their children.
Otherwise, expect more of the same “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems …”
School choice is the only way South Carolina will ever begin to improve its atrocious individual academic outcomes … and the only way its government-run schools will ever begin feeling the competitive pressure necessary to compel long-overdue, systemic reforms.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass player and a dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including the above-pictured Carolina Mudcats’ lid).
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