Welcome back to school. Hope you enjoyed that summer vacation.
We're so glad you have decided to attend South Carolina public schools, where we shape and mold the Palmetto State's future -- as cost-effectively as possible.
Even though the state has cut $850 million from the public schools budget over the past two years (with nearly $300 million more in cuts slated for next year), you should not see any difference in the quality of your education.
Unfortunately, we did have to lay off some teachers, but we were able to make the most of the cuts in other places, and luckily found other ways to make up for some of our lost revenue.
Now, before we give you this year's class schedule, we need to take care of your school fee. That'll be $40.
And then, of course, there are classroom supplies. That's $30.
Oh, it says here you've signed up for volleyball. This year that's going to be $75.
And you're a varsity football cheerleader. That's great. We need $250 for the uniform.
So you'll be driving yourself to school this year? A parking sticker will be $100.
Looks like that comes to $495.
Will that be cash or check?
A new motto
As the parent of any public school student can tell you, budget cuts have real consequences.
Thanks to declining state revenue and some nifty tax shifts in the past decade, per-pupil spending for public schools is down to 1995 levels (South Carolina's motto: A 20th century education for the 21st century!). To survive, schools across the state are jacking up fees, which is a Latin word that means "taxes."
In Dorchester District 2, for instance, officials made up part of a $12 million shortfall by raising student parking fees at three high schools from $25 to $100 a year.
But, truth is, it's not the schools' fault. It's not even the school boards' fault. And, believe it or not, it's not the Department of Education's fault.
"We've gotten calls from people asking why we cut the budget and made the fees so high," says Pete Pillow, spokesman for the Department of Education.
Sorry, you have to go a little higher than that. The Department of Education is just a pass-through.
That money comes straight from the state. Or doesn't, as the case may be.
No free lunch
Back in the day, schools just ate most of those costs -- it's supposed to be a "free" education, after all. Now some school districts ask each student to bring in a ream of paper, treat the copier key like nuclear codes and force teachers to pay for all their own supplies.
Schools have become a good model for what you can expect from the state with its new budgeting mentality. Next thing you know they'll charge us to put our boats in at public landings, state park fees will make Disney look like a deal and speeding tickets will cost a couple thousand dollars. Skinflints are pushing so hard for user fees in lieu of taxes, we're probably not too far from the days of toll roads. In the South. What is this world coming to?
So there's the first lesson of the 2010-11 school year: They're going to make you pay, one way or another.