A group of state legislators unveiled a new proposal Tuesday that would make major changes to how public schools are funded in South Carolina.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers want to set a single property tax millage rate across the entire state and put that money into a single pot. That money would then be divided up on a per-pupil basis and sent back to districts, with weighted amounts for students with disabilities, low income or other factors.
The idea is to replace the state’s four-decade-old funding formula that has become a patchwork of different tax rates and funding levels.
“We’ve got 85 school districts in this state. We’ve got 85 different funding formulas,” said Sen. Paul Campbell (R-Goose Creek), who plans to introduce the proposal in the Senate Wednesday. “What we need is a comon funding formula in this state.”
A group of five Republicans and one Democratic legislator held a press conference in the Statehouse lobby Tuesday to unveil the proposal.
“We’ve heard for years that the money needs to follow the child,” Rep. Doug Brannon (R-Landrum) said, “Under the current education funding process, that’s just not possible.”
Brannon said education funding reform is needed before lawmakers can start tax reform, since property taxes mostly go towards schools and education makes up more than half of the state’s General Fund spending. While unlikely to pass this late in the session, Rep. Jenny Horne (R-Summerville) said it is meant to start a conversation for next year’s session.
Education groups agreed. Debbie Elmore of the South Carolina Association of School Boards said she was glad lawmakers recognized the need to change how school districts are funded. “It’s like a blast of cool water on a hot day. It’s refreshing.”
Molly Spearman, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, said the original formula was created in the 1970s and has not been updated since– meaning many counties treated as “rural” under the formula have since seen a significant growth. Others are still treated as if they have a textile mill tax base, when that has not been the case for decades.
Horne called the new proposal a “win-win”: most residents and businesses would see a property tax decrease, while school districts would get a more efficient funding formula.
“This is where the campaign rhetoric ends and true, meaningful tax reform begins,” said Rep. Mia Butler-Garrick (D-Columbia), who joined Republicans in introducing the bill.
The bill will propose a uniform rate of 100 mills rate (a mill equals $1 of property taxed per $1,000 of its assessed value), which would be a decrease in 43 of the state’s 46 counties. Horne said lawmakers would work to find ways to keep the remaining counties (Beaufort, Charleston, and Georgetown) below that rate so that they will not be the only ones to suffer a tax increase.