Promise Zone offers rural S.C. hope (copy)

Allendale is one of 12 counties where most businesses could claim a $25,000 tax credit for five years for each new job they create, under a bill the Legislature sent to Gov Henry McMaster on Monday. (Grace Beahm/File)

It’s little mystery why the schools that struggle the most to provide a decent education tend to be in our poorest communities. Education and economic development go hand in hand.

Businesses don’t want to invest in areas without a well-prepared workforce. And parents without a good job have a tough time providing their kids the support they need to succeed in school.

Gov. Henry McMaster got it right in January when he declared that providing jobs in struggling communities would transform the schools there, and that it benefits the whole state to lure those jobs.

In his inaugural and State of the State addresses, he called for “a state-backed economic development commitment to bring jobs to these communities by providing infrastructure in rural areas — not only in water, sewer and roads, but in school buildings and facilities.”

Although the Legislature came up short on delivering transformational reform for our schools this year, lawmakers did agree to give Mr. McMaster’s Commerce Department millions of dollars to help lay that educational infrastructure in poor counties. That funding, combined with the largest single-year pay raise for teachers since 1982, is a nice down payment on the work lawmakers must continue next year.

And last month, the effort to improve education through economic development got a boost from the unlikeliest of places.

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Until recently, businesses could claim state tax credits for five years for each new job they create in manufacturing, tourism, agribusiness, processing, distribution, technology and a few other specified industries. In the poorest counties, they could even claim credits for creating retail and service-sector jobs. The credits start at $1,500 in the state’s most prosperous counties and increase as the counties get poorer.

When senators debated a bill in May to give an incentive package to the Carolina Panthers, they turbocharged those tax credits in the poorest counties. The annual tax credit for the 12 poorest counties jumped from $8,000 to $25,000. That kind of money could be a game-changer for businesses deciding where to locate a new plant.

States and communities sometimes can use incentives to entice businesses and drive economic growth. But South Carolina must use its limited resources wisely. Generally, the state should target those resources to the areas where they are likely to do the most good.

The larger tax credits, combined with state-funded school improvements, should help provide a boost to the economy and the school facilities in some of our most challenged school districts. Now, we need the Legislature to follow through next year with more support for teachers and after-school and summer programs, and with new accountability and ethics provisions that will ensure we have great teachers, good principals and superintendents to support them and school board members whose top priority is providing the best education possible for all students.

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