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It’s Time to Properly Fund Our Education System

By Rick Comfort.

You get what you pay for. An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

Those are pretty simple sayings to understand, straightforward and to the point. Whatever we all do in life, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” We all either have to barter or pay for everything we get. Usually, the more you pay the better the “stuff” or thing or service that you receive.

So why then would the brain trust in Columbia think cutting education funding would produce equal or better results than years before? Education funding in South Carolina, inflation adjusted, is still DOWN from 2007 levels

“South Carolina was one of 35 states spending less per student in 2014 than in 2008, slashing K-12 education funding by 14.2 percent, one of the largest cuts in the nation, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This “underfunding” continued through 2016 and is now at a point where reversing the trend will require everyone in the State Legislature to step up and do the right thing.  They did add $140 million to the budget this year, most for ‘non-educational’ purposes such as school buses and facility repairs. Only $60 Million goes toward per student funding” (June 6, 2017, Post and Courier, Charleston, SC).

Education is like baseball. It’s a five ‘tool’ sport. You have to catch, throw, run, hit and THINK baseball to produce a winning team.

So, for education we must develop, design, FUND, implement and THINK about who, what, why, when and HOW to accomplish those objectives.

Let’s start with the ‘who.’  There are a lot of them. Federal, state, county and local agencies and school boards are first. Then school administrators and finally, teachers!!

Teachers are five-tool players. They develop, design, sometimes fund what they want to implement in their classrooms, to achieve the ultimate objective, to get kids to WANT to learn!

They ARE, the who, what, why, when and how our children learn.

They produce the future Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Neil Degrasse Tyson and anyone else you can think of who has been successful. They all developed their quest for knowledge and information, their curiosity for the unknown, their desire to know more, with their very first teacher!

This ALL takes money. But it also takes guts, to step up and provide the funding we need just to be ‘average.’

In the latest education rankings’ from USNews&Report, SC is ranked 50th, based on 2015 scores and evaluations, and ranked 39th in per-student funding.

The US average K-12 School funding per student is approximately $11,000 per student. In SC it is approximately $10,000 per student. SC is ranked 39th in that metric.

If we are ranked 39th in ‘investment’ but only 50th on ‘returns,’ what are we doing differently that creates this huge delta between the two?

Local school board officials want to compare SC schools with other ‘bottom dwellers’ from the Southeast, so in their mind, SC is ‘the best of the worst.’ That certainly doesn’t provide educators with a warm fuzzy feeling.

Why not look at the best and emulate them, as best you can? SC can learn from the ‘best of the best’ and hopefully achieve the same results. It starts with formulating school budgets and funding.

When you look at Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey, (the top three in education rankings), they ALL have one thing in common, they spend at least 75% of their total per student funding for ‘instructional purposes.’ That means teachers, para-professional aides, and instructional materials are their primary focus.

In SC, approximately 60% of the per student funding is spent for ‘instructional purposes.’  That 10-15% less is a huge swing that negatively impacts what happens in the classroom.

All this information is from governing.com, based on US Census Bureau information for 2014, the last year that complete information is available.

The largest single amount of that instructional purpose budget is allocated to teachers’ salaries, which directly impact the classroom experience and results. That experience begins with the quality of the classroom teacher.

To attract the best and the brightest, you have to pay equal to the task and provide a livable wage for the area. And for SC to just be ‘average’ for 2016, South Carolina Legislators would have had to increase starting teacher salaries by approximately 14%…to take them from the statewide average of approximately $32,000 per year to approximately $36,000 annually, the US average.

Amazing how that percentage is almost the same as the funding ‘shortage’ for SC versus the best.

That’s just a start. SC needs to look at HOW they fund this. The funding issue is a topic for another time, but it is obvious that proper funding equals a fiscally content instructional staff and fundamentally better education.

It’s time for South Carolina to provide a quality education for everyone!

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