Tuesday, June 28, 2011

South Carolina races to the bottom in school funding

While we wait for Her Excellency the Governor to issue her vetoes, Jackie B. Hicks of The South Carolina Education Association offers some suggestions for the most appropriate uses of the revenue windfall that our Board of Economic Advisors delivered to the legislature early this month. In a column published in the Charleston Post & Courier and elsewhere, Hicks suggests that investment in public education might yield long-lasting dividends.

When the state collected more tax revenues than it projected, the Legislature decided to allot some of the new revenue to our public schools, an investment the South Carolina Education Association has lobbied for.

Gov. Nikki Haley said, "Give it back to the taxpayer."

Let's see who's right, from an economic perspective:

If every penny were returned to taxpayers, each would receive about $25.

That would allow them to buy a couple of movie tickets and a large Coke. Or if discretionary spending is not possible, it could cover a tiny part of the family's weekly grocery bill.

On the other hand, if every penny were invested in improving our high school graduation rate and early childhood education, according to economists, the state would save more than it would have to spend on government programs to support poorly educated residents.

After all, as a result of inadequate school funding, South Carolina now has among the lowest graduation rates in the nation.

Fewer than four out of every 10 high school students graduate.

So consider the economic benefits if we use the money to improve our high school graduation rate:

--High school dropouts are more than twice as likely to be unemployed and three times more likely to receive welfare assistance, costing South Carolina millions of dollars each year for government funded assistance programs.

--Improved education and more stable employment greatly increase tax revenue, such as a return of at least $7 for every dollar invested in pre-kindergarten education and more than $11.

--In South Carolina, the economy would gain more than $11 for every dollar it invests in public schools.

--Forty-one percent of all prisoners have not completed high school, compared to 18 percent of the general adult population. The annual cost of incarcerating an individual is about $32,000, while the annual cost of a quality public education is about $11,000.

--A 5 percent increase in the male graduation rate would save millions of dollars in crime-related expenses.

--Mortality decreases for every additional year in schooling by 7.2 percent for men and 6 percent for women; and the chances of optimum health is up to eight times higher for citizens with eighteen years of education versus only seven.

--Graduating from high school improves the quality of health, reduces dependence on public health programs by 60 percent, and cuts by six times the rate of alcohol abuse.

--The annual public health costs are $2,700 for high school dropouts, compared to $1,000 for high school graduates, and $170 for college graduates.

It is past time we faced the fact that South Carolina's schools are dramatically under-funded. Since the financial crisis of 2008, our schools have lost more than $484 million in the state's general fund and another $100 million loss in EIA funding.

Our spending on K-12 schools is lower even than Georgia, Florida and Virginia, all states that rank toward the bottom of the nation.

Gov. Haley should know that investing in public education will save the state millions of dollars and allow our children to compete for the high skill jobs of the future.

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