Gov. Nikki Haley’s focus on reforming the way South Carolina funds its public schools should at a minimum spawn a vital discussion about the state’s future.
South Carolina’s education funding system has been a mess for years. Schools get money from so many different sources that it’s hard for anyone to keep track. Attempts to fix the problem on a piecemeal basis have only added to the confusion.
What we do know is that students in poorer areas have access to far fewer learning opportunities than those in other parts of the state. Poorer schools offer fewer courses and use less sophisticated technology. In more affluent areas, however, students choose from a wide array of college prep or technology options. They also have access to the latest computers or tablets.
It’s also shameful that we allow students in Dillon and Marion counties to learn in ancient, dilapidated buildings while high school athletes in Spartanburg and York counties play on the most advanced athletic turf in state-of-the art stadiums.
We don’t fault the more affluent school districts and their supporters for wanting the best for their students. But nobody should accept an education funding system that creates the wide disparity we have in South Carolina.
In her State of the State address in January, Haley promised to study the problem this year. She has kept that promise. She has met this summer with several people who have a stake in improving education, including teachers, parents, business leaders and legislators.
She plans to release a comprehensive proposal for reforming education funding by the end of the year.
She faces a daunting task. Creating a system that sends more money to poorer areas without limiting educational opportunities in other parts of the state will be toug.
Haley acknowledged the challenge last week after meeting with business and legislative leaders. “You’ve got the rural areas and these kids that deserve a good education that aren’t having the resources they need, and you’ve got these wealthy areas that have everything they need and don’t want to compromise,” she said.
“So bringing these two together is a tough conversation to have.”
Pushing any plan through the legislature will be just as difficult. If schools in wealthier areas believe the plan hurts them, you can bet their legislators will oppose it.
Plus, if Haley’s plan includes streamlining taxes by raising some and lowering others, then legislators may worry about being accused of supporting tax hikes.
Meanwhile, we have some concerns about Haley’s effort. First, we wonder why she waited until her third year in office to focus on education reform. Did her interest grow because her likely Democrat opponent next year, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, has made expanding 4-year-old kindergarten a major campaign issue?
Haley says the No. 1 priority during her first three years has been creating jobs. The “next step,” she said, is educating the state’s future work force.
We also worry about Haley conducting her meetings this summer behind closed doors. The public should be allowed to follow the conversation from beginning to end. A full, open discussion will lead to the best policy.
Overall, though, we applaud the governor for spending so much time on the issue. Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Columbia, has said that in his nine years as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, no governor has reached out to the legislative leadership and educators “to the extent Governor Haley has, and I commend her for that.”
When Haley releases her plan later this year, we encourage everyone to study it. We hope it sparks a serious discussion about how to fix one of the state’s most serious problems.