COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Everybody says education is important, but what is being done to fix it? It's a concern WIS News 10's Judi Gatson brought to the attention of outgoing Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.
After four years in office, Rex said he's proud of what he accomplished. "We did it not only in the midst of the worst economic downturn in our lifetime, but we did it with a governor who was not always supportive or didn't always agree with what we were trying to do in public education," stated Rex.
He cited better scores on the new Palmetto Assessment of State Standards - or PASS - tests. There's an improving graduation rate, which is currently 74%, and a third accomplishment. "We've tripled the number of magnet schools in South Carolina in the last four years, we've doubled the number of public charter school students enrollment in the last four years and we've become the national leader in single gender education," explained Rex.
But he admits he was not able to fix the biggest problem facing education in the state. "We just haven't been able to push that boulder up the hill, and that's been a disappointment," expressed Rex.
Rex said the way the state funds education in South Carolina is broken. "We have a system now that's unfair and inequitable," claimed Rex, "It is not predictable. It's not transparent. It's a terrible system, and we have been advocating for years that we make it broader and lower - have a lower tax base but have a broader one - and that it is tied to almost every other reform we talk about in SC," stated Rex.
Governor Haley campaigned on a promise to move more money into the classroom. Rex acknowledged there's room for better efficiency but said that won't fix the problem.
"About 2% of what is spent on public education in South Carolina goes to the state agency, the State Department of Education," said Rex, "That agency has taken a 45% cut in the last two years. We've lost over 200 positions."
He said reform must be a top priority and said the worst thing the Haley administration could do is expand school choice beyond public schools. "If you use tax credits, you'll blow a big hole in the state budget," claimed Rex, "Every proposal that's come up in our state has represented $150 to $200 million minimum hole in the general fund, which we all have to make up in some way as taxpayers."
So, what can teachers expect in the tough budget year ahead? "It's gonna be tough," expressed Rex.
Rex said they'll be asked again to do more with less. "I think it appears inevitable that more teachers will lose their jobs next year," he stated.
The legislation Rex proposed to fix education funding got stuck in committee for three years.
Here are the key components of Rex's education funding proposal:
* Increase state funding for public education from approximately 70% to 80%
* Ensure funding goes to every student, regardless of where they live in the state
* Make funding more equitable by creating 'weighted' system that would provide additional money for: children with disabilities, non-English speaking students, children who have gifted & talented abilities and children living in poverty.
What do you think of this proposal? What ideas would you like lawmakers to consider to fix education funding? Let us know your answers in the comment section below.
You can also catch Gatson's entire interview with Rex above.
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