The summer homework assignment for S.C. lawmakers is to fix the complicated math formula the state uses to pay for its public schools.
The formula long has been criticized for being inflexible, ignoring the needs of poorer districts and shorting the amount paid to fast-growing districts.
A state House of Representatives panel met Tuesday, with some members leaning toward tying school money to students, not programs or school districts. The concept, known as "backpacking," has been advocated by Gov. Mark Sanford and others as a way to give districts more flexibility, leading to more efficiency.
A Senate committee also is working on the issue.
State Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, said he had three objectives in changing the way the state pays for public schools:
• Simplify: Produce a plan that is easy for the public, school administrators and lawmakers to understand and explain.
• Remain flexible: The plan should allow school districts to shift money to where it is needed most.
• Be equitable: The ideal plan also would provide more money for poorer districts or students with learning disabilities.
"It's something we can't ignore," Duncan said. "Each child is different."
The S.C. Association of School Administrators said it needs to study the idea more before endorsing or rejecting it.
Backpacking is a first step toward complete state funding of K-12 education, Duncan said. State money would help balance the amount poor and wealthy districts spend on education.
But many lawmakers, such as state Rep. Annette Young, R-Dorchester, said the state cannot afford to foot the entire cost of education without raising taxes. However, Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, said a tax increase could be offset by cutting local property taxes.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, R-Orangeburg, said how and where children are reared also should affect funding. "Environment does matter," she said.
Revamping school funding is likely to be a major issue when the Legislature returns in January. In May, debate over Charleston school funding nearly brought the state Senate to a halt.
The state's school funding formula has not been revised in 12 years.
Duncan said the complicated issues mean his panel might not finish its work by the November deadline set by House Speaker Bobby Harrell. The committee plans to meet twice a month through the summer and fall, and then report to the House when it convenes in January.