Despite Cuts School Spending Still Rising

April 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Contact: Neil Mellen, South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG) Foundation, 803.212.1051

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 districts.

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 dropped.

“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.”
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Change in Test Causes Spike in School AYP Scores

January 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Press Release

Contact: Neil Mellen
South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG)
803.212.1051

Officials have released details of this year’s public school rankings and parents are in for a surprise.

While Adequate Yearly Progress (or “AYP”) scores for elementary and middle schools across South Carolina have risen slightly, higher levels of student achievement are not the cause.

“Most of the improvement we see is the result of changes to the testing and scoring system,” explained Randy Page, president of an educational watchdog organization in Columbia. “When the schools switched from the PACT test to the new PASS test standards were lowered, giving the false impression that achievement gains were made.”

“Teachers, parents, students, and just about everyone was happy to see the PACT test replaced, but the school administrators and school boards lobbied hard to include a provision that weakens the way the new test would be graded and reported,” observed Page.

Last year, national testing experts at the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) criticized the new PASS test standards “as among the bottom quartile in a recent cross-state comparison of proficient standards within 27 states.”

The NWEA report further noted that just switching from PACT to PASS, would bring about a “dramatic” increase in the number of students meeting the standards “even with no actual improvement on student performance.”

Officials at Data Recognition Corp (DRC), a Minnesota based firm with political connections to Superintendent Jim Rex, seemed to agree. DRC created and helps to administer the PASS test, and was the primary contractor on the PACT test that PASS replaced. Last year a DRC official admitted to the press that under the recommended PASS scoring benchmarks, more students would fall into higher categories, which would lead to higher scores. In other words, scores would automatically rise even if student and school performance were stagnant.

Page and others have made the case that increasing parental choice would strengthen the state’s accountability laws and free up more resources for public schools.

“An educational tax credit program would provide parents with real options and save local school districts over $5,000 in locally raised revenues for each child whose parents exercise a choice about where their child attends school” noted Page, who pointed to similar programs already in effect in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Florida. “Educational tax credits would spur investment in education and give parents more of a reason to be engaged with their students education – that is something that standardized tests and AYP reports alone will never accomplish.”

Details of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for local schools and districts can be found online at: www.ed.sc.gov/topics/assessment/scores/ayp/

Who is Kelly Payne?

July 29, 2009 by  
Filed under SC Politics

Kelly Payne "IT Kids" Coordinator

Kelly Payne "IT Kids" Coordinator

We have been seeing the name Kelly Payne pop up all over the place over the past few weeks and over the last year.  After seeing all the buzz on FITSNews and a plug from Earl Capps, we had to check her out.

So after tracking her down on Facebook (actually, she tracked me down a few weeks ago promoting the “IT Kids“) and a few Facebook messages, we were able to catch up with Kelly for a few minutes yesterday and ask her a few questions and learn more about her.  For those of you who have not had the privilege to talk to her, you will immediately find that she is a pleasure to talk with.

Kelly received her B.A. from the University of South Carolina in 1991 with a major in Political Science and History.  In 2005, she received her Master’s degree in Social Studies with distinguished honors.  She is currently a teacher at Dutch Fork High School and working throughout the summer with South Carolina Policy Council.

Payne also coordinated the efforts to get the Alive at 25 program active in South Carolina and has established “The Den of Payne” in her civics class at Dutch Fork High School.  “The Den of Payne” has attracted various state leaders including, Nikki Haley, Gov. Mark Sanford, SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell, Attorney General Henry McMaster and many more.

So, the begging question, is she running for Superintendent of Education?

As of now, she will neither confirm nor deny the rumors abroad that she is running.  She has confirmed that multiple activists have approached her and encouraged her to consider running though.

Tell us what you think!

UPDATE:
We have just received word that a Draft Kelly Payne Facebook Group has been created.

Parents, Watchdogs Question Luxurious Educational Conference

June 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Press Release

Contact: Neil Mellen
Communications Director
South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG)
803.212.1051

Deep budgets cuts have forced schools to furlough, even fire, hundreds of classroom teachers.

That’s what frustrated parents of public school children across South Carolina have been told throughout the last eight months.

From the first signs of sinking state revenues in the fall of 2008, through to the week after lawmakers forced Governor Sanford’s hand and secured the full portion of federal stimulus funding, public education officials have insisted student achievement would suffer from tighten budgets

Now many of the local superintendents who led the fight for higher state and federal funding are drawing fire for their own lavish spending.

An elaborate six-day administrators conference began Sunday at the luxurious Kingston Plantation resort in Myrtle Beach. Critics are questioning how South Carolina’s Association of School Administrators (SCASA), a professional group funded through taxpayer-subsidized fees, benefits and contracts, can afford plush accommodations at the four-star hotel.

Details of the conference posted at the SCASA website include links to lavish hotel menus with filet mignon and lobster tail dinner entrees. Among the scheduled speakers are embattled Superintendent Thomas White of Spartanburg District Seven, who earlier in the year used public funds to pay for a membership in an elite private country club, and State Superintendent Jim Rex, who called under-performing high schools “dropout factories” at a speech in May. Other speakers represent private firms enjoying high dollar consulting and service contracts with public school districts and the State Department of Education.

The meeting, a series of events headlined by a “Leadership Institute,” has been condemned by watchdog groups for years, but the recent publicity of tightened school budgets makes the 2009 conference particularly controversial.

“With 73,000 students trapped in failing public schools and 122 high school students dropping out each day, we need to focus our precious public resources on teacher salaries and classroom supplies, not on pampering and retreats for bureaucrats,” remarked Randy Page, President of South Carolinas for Responsible Government.

SCASA has even set up a closed circuit TV feed so that superintendents and other educational bureaucrats can “participate” from their rooms at the hotel without actually walking down to the conference center.

Scrutiny of the conference is also bringing attention to the political activities of SCASA in and around the Statehouse in Columbia. The group, whose number one stated organizational objective is to “be recognized as the leading force for education” in the State, hires professional political lobbyists to influence the policy decisions of legislators. Members have played a major role in calling for higher educational spending with lower levels of accountability and oversight.

“SCASA is a group of high salaried public officials,” continued Randy Page, noting that most superintendents enjoy compensation packages well over $100,000.00 per year. “They ought not use public money to lobby lawmakers and certainly not use public money for indulgent vacations disguised as professional development.”

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21,873 SC High Schools Failed to Graduate in 2009

June 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Press Release

South Carolina Loses 122 Students Every Day

Contact: Neil Mellen
Communications Director
South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG)
803.212.1051

122 public high school students are lost each day in South Carolina.

That’s according to a new report on high school dropouts by Education Week magazine, entitled “Diplomas Count 2009.”

The nonpartisan report looked at how successfully public high schools in South Carolina and across the nation prepare students for college. The data was based on state reporting to the federal government for students in the freshmen class of 2005-06.

The study indicated than over one-in-three public school students in South Carolina failed to graduate on time. While 64,820 students were enrolled as freshmen in 2005-06, only 42,947 went on to graduate this spring.

“21,873 students in the class of ’09 failed to graduate this year, explained Randy Page, President of South Carolinians for Responsible Government. “That’s tragic and calling it ‘acceptable’ or an ‘improvement’ is an insult to parents.”

In late May, South Carolina State Superintendent Jim Rex held a townhall meeting at Greenville’s J.L. Mann High School to discuss the dropout problem. He told audience members “some areas and some districts are pulling the state averages down” and admitted to calling these trouble public schools “dropout factories.” Rex further explained that students attending these persistent failing schools “don’t have a shot at the American Dream.”

The 2009 Diplomas Count report authors also noted that South Carolina is one of the few states that fail to release detailed graduation information broken out in by gender, race, or school district.

The graduation figures in the Education Week publication, seen as a national standard for K12 education policy and assessment, vary greatly from higher numbers released by the South Carolina State Department of Education.
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