According to the United States Department of Education, South Carolina's per-pupil spending for K-12 education is right at the national average -- about half of the states spend more than us, the rest spend less. Yet despite being about 25th in the nation in terms of funding, we are 49th in terms of outcomes (as measured by metrics like test scores and graduation rates). This glaring disparity is why the South Carolina Supreme Court, in the Abbeville case concerning the adequacy of public education in our state, said this: "The evidence demonstrates that there is a clear disconnect between spending and results.”
If we want to improve our system of free public education in South Carolina – and I do – we have to start doing something more than simply spending more money. First, we must have more of the money that's appropriated spent in the classroom -- on increasing teachers' salaries and improving instructional materials, that is, on the things that actually lead to better educated children -- and less spent on the bloated K-12 bureaucracy. And that's exactly what we have done in the past two years.
We also need means-based programs that allow public education dollars to follow students from lower-income families to the school of their parents' choosing. Giving them the same choices that students from wealtheir families already enjoy is a matter of equity and fairness; moreover, increased choice breeds competition and creates a powerful incentive for schools to get better.
School choice is also a way out of the poverty cycle for low-income families. As the Wall Street Journal noted in 2010, 2,000 of the nation's 20,000 high schools produce roughly 50 percent of all dropouts, and African-American children have a 50/50 chance of having to attend one of these so-called "dropout factories."