Lowcountry Republicans to file school-funding bills

Campbell

COLUMBIA — A pair of Lowcountry lawmakers are among a group of elected officials who say they will introduce bills this week aimed at restarting the debate on fixing public school funding.

The measures stand little chance of passing this late in the legislative session, but introducing them now will help officials begin to discuss the proposals and give them a better chance of passage next year, the lawmakers said.

Resources for districts vary greatly depending on where students hail from, and reform to make funding more equitable is long overdue, Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, and Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, said in a press conference this week.

Criticism from legislators aimed at the state’s decades-old funding formula is nothing new, and talk of changing the formula hasn’t advanced far beyond that in recent years.

The funding formula is the subject of a long-standing lawsuit filed by the state’s rural districts, including Berkeley County, that the S.C. Supreme Court has yet to rule on.

The districts want more money from the state, saying current funding levels are inadequate.

But Horne said the bill would use a uniform funding rate that would ensure local and state dollars are allocated on a weighted, per-student basis.

The proposed system would take into account individual students’ characteristics and needs, such as special needs and free or reduced lunch.

“A child in Fairfield County and a child in Dorchester County will essentially receive the same funding,” Horne said.

That proposal is likely to draw criticism from those opposed to using money collected from one community for schools elsewhere.

Campbell said the bills also will propose a reduction in the industrial property tax rate from the current assessment ratio of 10.5 percent to 6 percent.

The measures will call for all 6 percent assessment non-owner occupied properties to be assessed at 100 mills, resulting in a $600 million statewide tax cut, Horne said.

She said counties with millage rates below 100 mills would receive a 5-mill reduction under the bills.

Millage tax rates vary from place to place.

The Lowcountry lawmakers were joined at the Tuesday news conference introducing the bills by several Republicans from other parts of the state and one Democrat.

Also offering her support was Anita Zucker of Charleston, the CEO of InterTech Group.

She said as a businesswoman building a new plant in the Charleston area, education funding reform is critical to providing equity and better-educated young people for the future workforce.

Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter at @stephenlargen