COLUMBIA -- Nearly half of the state's elementary and middle schools scored a "D" or an "F" equivalent on the state's annual report card, with state education officials citing sagging English scores and rising poverty as two factors working against improvement.
On Thursday, the state Department of Education released its annual report cards, which grade S.C. schools and districts based on standardized test scores, graduation rates and other education data.
Schools and districts receive a rating of "excellent," "good," "average," "below average" or "at-risk."
High schools were the winners this year. Only 15 percent rated "below average" or "at risk" and 41 percent rated "excellent" or "good."
But an increasing number of middle schools -- 61 percent this year -- and an increasing number of elementary schools -- 41 percent -- were rated "below average" or "at risk," the bottom two ratings.
Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said this year's results are a mixed bag and he has strategies to tackle the problems.
"It's disappointing to see more schools struggling on the low end of the scale," Rex said. "We've got to be more innovative and creative and we likely need to identify more (funding) resources. We've got to get serious as a state, (including) lawmakers to support (a world-class) system. Frankly, I don't see that happening."
Of the $1 billion cut from the state's budget since July, $321 million has come from the state's 85 public school districts.
One bright spot: More than 60 percent of the state's elementary and high school students attend schools rated "excellent," "good" or "average."
But middle school students aren't so lucky. Only 48 percent of middle school students attend schools with one of the top three ratings, according to an Education Oversight Committee estimate.
Rex will roll out several legislative proposals in coming weeks including a new student-centered funding formula in which state education dollars would follow students no matter where they live in the state.
He also has a request before a House committee to make it easier for the Department of Education to fire principals and teachers at chronically underperforming schools.
But some Republican lawmakers are sharpening their own ideas about how to fix the education system and reinvigorating conservatives' cries for vouchers.
Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville, is drafting a bill to give a tax credit to parents who send their students to a public school outside of their attendance zone or to a private or parochial school.
"Georgia and Pennsylvania are trying it and having success," Bedingfield said. "We've got to think outside the box when it comes to our children. We need to realize that when it comes to a quality education, public education isn't the only way."