Rex: Funding for public schools needs overhaul

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Jim Rex spent Wednesday morning speaking to citizens throughout the state about “the state of public education” in South Carolina during a live internet chat carried by a number of media outlets across the state. Rex fielded questions from moderator Judi Gatson of WIS-TV Columbia and citizens monitoring the web cast. Rex says overall schools are making progress, but more improvement must be made in order to properly prepare youngsters for the competitive 21st century. Rex says school districts will be getting a boost with the arrival of stimulus money in July. Rex says $350 million will be going toward education each of the next two years. $185 million is earmarked for K through 12. Rex says the stimulus money will save a number of programs and jobs.
“We estimate that the stabilization funding is saving about 500 teaching jobs, probably another hundred non-teaching jobs. Many districts that had to make tough decisions earlier in the year are able now to go out and fill positions, and start up programs that they had thought about cancelling or reducing. We’re going to see some improvement over a difficult situation. We still have cuts. We still have layoffs. We lost $400 million this year for public education.”
Rex is in Myrtle Beach this week attending the South Carolina Association of School Administrators’ annual leadership conference.
Rex acknowledged that some school districts are feeling the budget crunch harder than others. Rex says the distribution of the stimulus money will be largely based on need. “It will depend upon the number of children who are on free or reduce lunch. Title I money, districts with high levels of poverty will get more of that money than districts that do not. the IVA money will go to districts based upon the number of children who have special needs. It will differ depending on the demographics of the school districts.”
Rex says while the stimulus funds will help over the next two years, for the future the state needs a comprehensive revamping of the way public education is funded, which would include comprehensive tax reform which would include revisiting the property tax structure.
Rex says the state should adopt a more student centered approach in funding education. Rex says it should be a simpler formula that is easy to understand where the state funding for education goes to the student regardless of where that student lives in the state. Rex says the funding system should have a handful of weightings including additional funding for children with special needs, children that are academically or artistically advanced, and children who are transitioning to speaking English. Rex says the most important weighting should involve children in poverty.
“We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if a child comes from a deprived background, they need more resources not less. They need better teachers not worse. They need at least adequate facilities, not inadequate facilities. There needs to be a weighting that recognizes the pervasive poverty we have in South Carolina, which by the way has been increasing the last six or seven years and with this recession has really spiked.”
Rex says public education in the state needs a funding system that is simple, transparent, predictable, stable, and addresses the realities of the 21st century. Rex adds that only a third of the net proceeds of the Education Lottery goes to K through 12 education, the other two thirds goes to fund post secondary education scholarships.
Rex says he supports the concept of the “No Child Left Behind Act” but some changes must be made when it is revised in order to make the new version supportive, not punitive.
“We know that there are things that were not done properly. Certainly the way we were trying to hold kids with special needs accountable for the same testing didn’t make any sense. The way that we asked kids who couldn’t utilize the English language, the non-English speakers to take tests that they couldn’t understand didn’t make any sense. Also, we weren’t rewarding schools for improvement, we were punishing schools, not helping or rewarding them for any type of growth or improvement.”

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