Differences between Haley, Sheheen on education spending

Doug was talking about differences between Nikki Haley and Vincent Sheheen on education spending on a previous post, and it reminded me that I wanted to share with you this Mike Fitts piece on an important difference between the gubernatorial candidates in that area:

Sen. Vincent Sheheen sees an opportunity to change the balance of education in the state by having more funding flow to the poor rural districts that have lagged behind. Rep. Nikki Haley sees a new formula as the way to get more money out of the S.C. Education Department and into all school districts.

To Sheheen, a Camden Democrat, only a funding arrangement that gets more dollars to poor districts addresses what really ails state education. As funding rebounds from the bottom of the recession, Sheheen said, more growth should be directed to the schools that don’t have a strong tax base. Districts in prosperous areas should not be given less, but poor districts should be helped to make up ground, he said.

“Until we have equitable funding, we’re always going to be fighting about equitable funding,” Sheheen said.

Haley’s school funding rubric would emphasize dollars per student rather than the tax base of a district. The simpler funding formula Haley advocates would still take into account such factors as poverty and special needs.

Haley, R-Lexington, believes far too much money still is being spent at the state Education Department, despite several rounds of cutbacks as the state budget has shrunk….

Bottom line, Nikki wants to cater to the right-wing fantasy that the Department of Education is where all the money goes, and if you just redirect THAT, schools will have all they need. Meanwhile, Vincent wants to address the actual education problem in South Carolina — poverty. If you make the mistake of being born into a poor family in a poor district, your chances of getting a good education is much, much less than if you go to school in Nikki’s district, where as she boasts, the public schools are “like private ones.” That’s anti-public-educationspeak for “the public schools in my district are good.” And they are. But they’re not good because they are “like” private schools. They’re good because they are good public schools.

Bottom line, though, is that we won’t be at a point where poor, rural districts do as well as suburban districts until the economic inequities between rural and urban South Carolina close. Economic development and public education go hand in hand, and each affects the other dramatically.

In the meantime, there are smaller things we can do. Sending more resources to the poorer districts will help — some. Consolidating districts so that each has more resources and less total administration to fund will help — some. (If you want to see money wasted on excess administration, look there.) But it’s going to be a long, hard slog.

The place to start, of course, is with electing state leaders who actually believe in public education. Then you can begin the long journey.

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