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Despite Cuts School Spending Still Rising
posted April 29, 2010
OP-ED – The last school year was
dominated by news of massive budgets cuts to classrooms across South
Carolina. A closer look suggests the impact of cuts was often
overstated, sometimes dramatically. Newly released data from the State
Department of Education indicates that both funding and spending
actually rose across the state's 85 public school districts.
The Department's "Finance and Operations" division published detailed
records of the districts' final revenues and expenditures for the
2008-2009 financial year late last week.
All told, the 85 public school districts reported $9 billion in
revenues and $9.5 billion in expenditures. Based on a year-long average
enrollment of 686,611 students, the schools spent an average of $13,880
per-pupil and took in $13,182 per-pupil. The gap between revenues and
spending receipts is the result of transfers between funds within the
These new numbers point to a major rise in public school spending, at a
time when most parents assumed budgets were shrinking. The report
indicates that on average districts spent $556 more per student in 2009
than in 2008, though 34 districts saw declines.
School districts receive money from local, state, and federal
governments, as well as their own issuance of bonds and transfers from
other agencies. The state portion of school funding in 2009 was $3.5
billion, down from $3.7 billion the year before. Despite the cuts, 51
districts were able to increase per-pupil spending through a mix of
heightened local tax collections, federal funding, transfers between
government agencies, and a spike in revenue from bonds. Others tapped
into massive reserve funds and shifted allocations, though transfers
accounted for less than eight percent of total school revenues.
Even the cuts to state aid were smaller than anticipated. Over the
course of the school year, there were four cuts to the Education
Finance Act (EFA), and five cuts to the Education Investment Act (EFA).
The EFA is tied to the state's General Fund, and the EIA consists of
money collected through the state's sales tax. The state still provided
local schools with an average of $3,753 per-pupil in 2009.
State Superintendent Jim Rex claimed in March of 2009 that cuts had
reached $365 million, insisting that public schools were "at-risk of
significant damage." The final report from the Department of Education
indicates state aid in the form of EFA and EIA payments dropped $270
million from initial projections, or $394 per-student.
Federal funding for schools, the center of heated debate over South
Carolina's acceptance of stimulus money, played a limited role.
Washington supplied just 8.4 percent of districts' revenues in 2009.
Some districts now post details of their finances online but the size
and complexity of these budgets remains a source of frustration for
many transparency advocates. Local board members and state officials
routinely exclude certain items in their budget discussions and
reports. Revenue from bond issues, property sales, and government
transfers are regularly omitted. So is spending on debt, interest,
construction, pensions and legal services. When these numbers are
extracted average school budgets appear as low as $9,800 per student,
leading many parents to assume that education spending had stagnated or
"Teacher furloughs and cuts of $300 million sound heart wrenching,
observed Randy Page, President of the SCRG Foundation. "But when so
many school budgets are actually growing and total spending is over
$13,800 per-student, there ought to be a reality check in terms where
the money is really going."
South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG) Foundation
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