Monday, January 3, 2011

Committee will eye education funding

Bluffton Today

The number of constituent contacts moved up last week into the 300-plus area for the shortened week. If you called and I was a little slow getting back to you, I apologize. As I mentioned in the last column, we were short-handed and did the best we could.

Having said that, it was extremely gratifying to hear from all the Marine Corp supporters on the car tag issue. We are moving ahead with good support on that.

We are also moving ahead with the Golf Cart Bill. Much of the opposition we received on this measure last session was simply a matter of misinformation, which we are working hard to correct. Part of our effort is to enlist support from both law enforcement and the insurance industry, which appears to be falling into place.

This legislation has obvious value for folks out in Sun City, and especially for golf cart owners on remote barrier islands such as Daufuskie Island.

As more people discover that golf carts are an excellent way to get around Old Town Bluffton or Wilson Village at Palmetto Bluff, I believe we may have to take a more comprehensive look at the place these vehicles have in our communities. I see my friends Doug and Jean Corkern, usually with grandchildren in tow, easing their cart around old town fairly often. It’s a nice way to socialize and enjoy our great little town.

There is a delegation matter having to do with our education information task force that needs some clarification. This is a study group that I, as Beaufort County Delegation chairman, put into place at the request of Rep. Shannon Erickson (R-Beaufort).

I have asked Rep. Andy Patrick (RHilton Head) and Rep. Curtis Brantley (D-Jasper County) to serve on the task force with Rep. Erickson as chair. Their mandate is to place on the table all the features of the present system of funding Beaufort County public schools. This, of course, will involve extensive input from County Council, as well as both the school board and school district.

Ideally, we should prepare a joint meeting, with appropriate public comment, between all the stakeholders so that everything is out in the open and open for discussion. This effort is, first and foremost, about making sure that all the pertinent information is gathered in one place and that differences in the various processes of the stakeholding organizations don’t hinder proper communication.

This is a complex undertaking and we have no illusions about coming up with immediate, comprehensive answers to the questions of funding equity among the counties, or efficiency of outcomes for dollar spent. This is just about basic information.

For example, state education funding is not directed simply by the Education Finance Act, although the EFA formulas are a consideration. There are also requirements articulated under the Education Improvement Act, Education Accountability Act, the S.C. Education Lottery, and Act 388, as well as various federal mandates. This complexity has resulted from a well-intentioned but piecemeal approach to improving our public schools. In my view, we need a top to bottom review of not only taxation related to education but taxation in general. However, since education is close to half of what we do at the state, it’s certainly a good place to start. To that end, Chairman Erickson has indicated she plans to commence on Jan. 6.