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/

Spartanburg Town Hall Meeting – School Choice

October 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Press Release

Families in Spartanburg are talking about school choice.

Parents want more options for their children and better accountability from their public schools. They want to get the facts about high public school spending, low test scores and how broader access to private schools will improve performance for all students.

Come and join the discussion!

Pizza will be served!

Tuesday, October 28th, 6:30 p.m

Merryland Child Development 
95 Ashley Street, Spartanburg

Learn more: http://schoolchoicenow.wordpress.com/

Questionable Activities in the SC House Ethics Committee?

September 26, 2008 by  
Filed under News, SC Politics

It is our understanding that the state law reads that an individual will pay a $100 fine for each day the candidate is late submitting their contribution reports to the ethics commission.

ARTICLE 15. – PENALTIES
SECTION 8-13-1510.   Penalty for late filing of or failure to file report or statement required by this chapter.

Except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter, a person required to file a report or statement under this chapter who files a late statement or report or fails to file a required statement or report must be assessed a civil penalty as follows:

(1) a fine of one hundred dollars if the statement or report is not filed within five days after the established deadline provided by law in this chapter; or

(2) after notice has been given by certified or registered mail that a required statement or report has not been filed, a fine of ten dollars per day for the first ten days after notice has been given, and one hundred dollars for each additional calendar day in which the required statement is not filed.

The last deadline was on 7/10/08 and there is one candidate that did not file his reports until 9/11/08.  This candidate, Harold Mitchell, according to my source has only paid a $100 fine on 8/5/08.

This whole story gets a little more interesting.

Many campaigns have railed the School Choice supporters and their funding from NY, particularly Howard Rich and Associates.

Upon analyzing Mitchell’s contributions report, you find almost $30,000 dollars of campaign contributions from out of state sources.  Those names, primarily point back to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

  1. Terry Mcauliffe – Chairman of Hillary’s Presidential Campaign.
  2. Smith Bagley – Campaign Bundler / Fundraiser.
  3. Micheal Kempner – HRC National Finance Co-Chairs
  4. Deborah Jackson – Large Campaign Donor
  5. James Cecchi – Large Campaign Donor

Look at the report and research for yourself.

In May, Hillary was still in the hunt for the Presidency and Mitchell was one of the few African American elected officials to support Hillary.

Almost all of these contribution came during the black out period between the pre-election filing and the primary election.  If I remember correctly, Howard Rich was heavily criticized for this same tactic.

This leaves me with the following questions.  I hope to get answers soon.

  1. Why did Mitchell wait so long to file his contribution reports (after the DNC) ?
  2. Why is it that he is only being fined $100?
  3. Why is in the media not railing the HRC donors like they did the Rich supporters?

Lee Bright v Scott Talley – Who Wants Vouchers?

June 24, 2008 by  
Filed under SC Politics

I have heard a lot of debate on the he said he said between Bright and Talley.  I am not endorsing one candidate or the other, but did find this information interesting to read. It appears both candidates have ties to the voucher program, Talley voted for it here & here and Bright is being constantly accused of it.

Below is Sanfords letter of endorsement.

Dear Friend,

I hope this email finds you well. As you probably know, last week I endorsed Lee Bright in the Senate District 12 race and I thought I would write to briefly explain why I think he would be a great Senator for Spartanburg County.

Lee strikes me as a principled conservative who would not only represent the area’s interests well, but also be an advocate for important changes in the way our state does business. He shares our goal of making our state more competitive in the global marketplace and improving the overall lives of all South Carolinians – and sees how important changing things in Columbia is to getting there.

I think his experience in starting and building a small business makes him appreciate how hard people work to earn a living, and the importance of treating “government money” like money that actually belongs to taxpayers.

As you head to the polls next week, I would ask that you consider the following.

– Government spends about $20 billion of our money every year. In fact, state spending has increased by over 40 percent in the last three years – much faster than family income.

– In some cases, those funds are wasted on balloon festivals and Elvis impersonators while the legislature leaves deficits for fuel for our school buses and securing prisons.

– We have more than $20 billion in unpaid political promises and these IOUs will have to be paid by our children and grandchildren.

– We have an antiquated and fractured government structure that creates more overlap and duplication and less accountability. In fact, we are the only state in the country with a Budget and Control Board that handles the administrative functions handled by the other 49 governors in the country.

I won’t bore you with more examples, but the bottom line is that I believe we are close to achieving some significant reforms in Columbia – but that we too often find ourselves falling just a few votes shy of essential change. Sending Lee to the Senate would be a huge help to our efforts, so I hope you’ll support Lee in Tuesday’s runoff.

Take care,

Mark Sanford

PS – To view the television commercial that explains why I endorsed Lee, please click here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=GPkIliv1lT0