Kimberly Washington filed this report
One South Carolina nonprofit group says state financial data indicates school spending has drastically decreased compared to inflation in the most impoverished districts.
South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center released a report this week which found public school districts received less financial support per student on an inflation-adjusted basis in 2013-2014 than they did five years earlier. It also found support declined most severely in those districts ranking highest on a state education poverty index. School year 2013-2014 is the latest for which final district revenues were available.
Carolina Appleseed is a legal justice center that focuses on looking at and addressing the issues that impact low income communities.
In November 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state had failed to provide a “minimally adequate” education to children in the state’s poorest districts. The ruling came after decades of legal battles and legislative debates over South Carolina’s education efforts in rural communities. The 3-2 ruling in Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina has sparked debate over how South Carolina education funds should be spent. The report’s financial data involves the last budget prior to the court’s decision.
The group’s director Sue Berkowitz said Carolina Appleseed initially became concerned because, “there hasn’t been a whole lot of movement since the Abbeville case has been decided. So we chose to take a look again to see how poorer school districts are doing. We recognized, while all school districts had gone down some it was remarkable looking at by dollars for inflation how much worse our poorer districts were doing in South Carolina.”
The court’s decision charged state legislators with reworking the state’s funding formula and making other changes to ensure that students in rural districts do not receive an inferior education compared to wealthier districts. But Carolina Appleseed’s analysis of the 15 districts ranking worst on the state’s poverty index indicates little or no progress has been made thus far to fix funding trends. Those districts received an average of $5,900 per student in 2013-2014, down from $6,900 in 2008-2009 (today’s dollars).
For all 81 districts in South Carolina, the 2015-2016 estimate for state funding shows improvement over 2013- 2014’s numbers, up by 3.5 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis. But for the 15 districts highest on the poverty index, the 2015-2016 estimate is down 0.9 percent from 2013-2014, continuing the recent decrease in funding.
“Considering that the decision came out two years ago we would have hoped that there would be some final resolution at this point,” Berkowitz said.
She indicated while there has been discussion in the legislature about fixing the physical problems within the deteriorating schools among the I-95 corridor, legislators are still failing to address the Abbeville decision.
Berkowitz said though physical structures are important community leaders must not forget to make a statement through legislative support and resources that academic funding is the most important.
“We’re leaving those students behind. Because when students aren’t getting all the services they need from schools they aren’t able to come out with the skill sets that they need, said Berkowitz. “When we under fund education what we’re doing is not only not complying with the South Carolina Supreme Court order but what we’re saying is those children who live in poorer communities are not worth the investment that we need to be putting into them so that they can come out and live the lives that we should all be able to have when were finished with school.”
All data used was from the latest Revenue Per Pupil Report by School District from the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.