Earlier this year, I reported on plans by South Carolina’s results-challenged government-run education system to spend more than $3 billion in “emergency” Covid-19 funding – money which comes on top of the $330 million in federal Covid-related appropriations previously doled out.
And on top of recent spikes in state funding …
In that article, I argued this “potentially transformational” appropriation (using the mainstream media’s phraseology) would likely yield better academic outcomes if it was routed through a market-based system – not the byzantine maze of state and local bureaucracies overseeing the current disaster.
“Rather than plowing this money 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?” I wrote. “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?”
Sadly, South Carolina political leaders continue to pay lip service to this reform as opposed to offering substantive school choice proposals.
In 2021, South Carolina saw a noticeable uptick in terms of how its graduating seniors fared on the SAT exam. Statewide, the average total score climbed from 1019 to 1028 – mirroring the national jump from 1030 to 1038 – according to data published by the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE).
Graduating seniors at government-run schools saw their math scores climb from 499 to 504 and their “evidence-based reading and writing” scores tick up from 519 to 524.
Good news? Not entirely. As has been the case for decades, the Palmetto State still trails the national average by double digits. Furthermore, if you peek inside the data there is a troubling caveat that needs to be addressed.
Last year, 27,673 graduating seniors in the Palmetto State took the SAT (or 56 percent of all twelfth graders in the state). This year, the total dipped to 22,562 (or 46.4 percent of all twelfth graders). The last time SAT participation was that low – in 2018 – 22,141 graduating seniors scored an average 1064 on the exam.
That gap certainly puts these “gains” in perspective …
A similar phenomenon took place on the ACT, as test scores among graduating seniors surged from 18.4 to 20.3 – matching the national average, which declined by 0.3 points from the previous year, according to SCDE data. There were two key caveats to consider on the ACT results, though. First, scores amongst graduating seniors in South Carolina’s government run system only increased from 18.1 to 18.3 – a much smaller gain.
DON’T MISS A STORY …
Also, like the SAT, participation took a huge hit – with only 24,314 of graduating seniors taking the ACT this year (down from 32,330 test-takers in 2020).
Given the staggering increases in taxpayer spending on government-run education in South Carolina, these results are simply unacceptable.
According to the state budget which went into effect on July 1, government-run schools in the Palmetto State are spending a record $15,527 per child during the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Based on the current student population, that adds up to a colossal $11.86 billion.
Again, this amount does not include Covid-19 “stimulus” funding … nor does it include the estimated $1.67 billion in unrestricted cash reserves South Carolina school districts were hoarding as of June 30, 2020, a number that has increased by more than $350 million over the previous two years.
It also does not include funding from local bonds. According to data released earlier this month by the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs (SCRFA) office, total per pupil funding (including the proceeds of local bond issuances) in the Palmetto State clocked in at $17,678 for the current fiscal year – pushing the state’s total annual funding tab past $13.5 billion.
That astronomically big number is likely much higher, too, as SCRFA does not “project revenue from local bonds” for the current fiscal year but uses the latest “actual data” – which typically lags at least two years behind the current fiscal year’s totals.
Again, I will pose the same, simple question I have been asking state leaders for the better part of the last decade-and-a-half: Are these massive, escalating investments in “public education” producing corresponding gains in academic achievement?
Or, put another way, is funding “public schools” accomplishing the core function of educating our young people?
Because based on these numbers, the answer continues to be a resounding “no.”
To be clear: I am not saying we should do away with government-run schools. Far from it. I am simply saying this system desperately needs to be held accountable to the marketplace – and to engaged parents and guardians who are empowered with real choices for their children as opposed to the illusion of choice.
“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,” I wrote back in July.
The longer we wait to implement such reform, the costlier our failure will become … in dollars, but more importantly in the lives of our children.
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. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates’ lid pictured above).
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