State committee holds public hearing to discuss district funding inequities

State committee holds public hearing to discuss district funding inequities

DILLON COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A House Education Task Force hosted a public hearing held in Dillon Monday night. It is what state lawmakers consider to be the foundation to start fixing a problem that's been in limbo since 1993: the inequities in school funding throughout the Pee Dee.

The funding shortfalls could impact your child's education and last night, members of a state task force listened to some of your concerns.

At the Dillon Middle School Gymnasium, the Education Policy Review and Reform Task Force members were there to listen to the concerns, stories, and questions from rural and poorly-funded school districts in the Pee Dee Area.

The 17-member committee is made up of state House members, ex-superintendents and state education leaders. The committee says our education system is outdated and it needs to be reviewed to ensure it's fair for all citizens all across the state.

State Superintendent of Education, Molly Spearman, is part of the committee. "I think there is a need for a survey of facility and technology needs in the rural areas - we don't really have that, so that's definitely something we can do, and I think there is a basic need to go back and look at the funding system to make sure it is equitable. The tax base in the Pee Dee area and in rural areas is much different than in other communities, so it is something we need to study."

The issues and concerns go back more than 22 years ago, when in 1993, 33 school districts sued the state for inequities in funding that mainly affected rural districts. The original decision made back in the late 90's was that funding was not equitable only for children in kindergarten through 5th grade, so the districts appealed.

The State Supreme Court confirmed there are funding shortfalls at all grade levels and something needs to be done about it, but there was nothing done once that decision was finalized. 

Spearman said, "I think our 1977 Education Finance Act was set up at a time when community had a textile mill a good local tax base system, and that's changed, but yet our system hasn't changed, so it's time for us to look at it again and really equitable and fair."

The job for the Task Force is to compile facts about the challenges rural districts face, and how much funding is needed to ease them.

Their goal is come up with educational mandates to reform South Carolina's education system, and ensure all children have access to a 21st education. Spearman said that is the purpose of the hearing: to get ideas, and understand what is needed in those school districts.

"One of the big takeaways from the meeting is the value of a strong arts program and how we've got to make school fun and allow students to be problem solvers and collaborators and to be creative. There were several teachers who talked about the arts and basic curriculum program has really helped their school and how that needs to be enhanced so all rural areas can have those programs.

The Task Force will put together a report with their findings and present it to the South Carolina Supreme Court next February.

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