South Carolina, Schooling Financial savings Accounts Have the Potential to Make the State a Pupil’s Market
Educators are so sought after in South Carolina that observers call it a “teacher market”. While it’s comforting that teachers have options, shouldn’t government officials turn the educational landscape into a market for students too?
Fortunately for the families, some politicians are already working on it.
A recent survey of teachers in South Carolina found that half of those who left their jobs in the 2020-21 school year did not retire; they moved to another school. When asked about the most important reason for changing schools, most of the respondents stated that they have moved to a different apartment and that they would like a “more conveniently located” position.
The South Carolina Education Association director said teachers could now “look around to find class sizes or better grades or better retirement,” making the job market one that is more favored by educators.
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Such opportunities are great for teachers, but South Carolina should join the 21 other states that added or expanded learning opportunities this year. Some South Carolina lawmakers are drafting an educational savings account that would allow children from low-income households and high school students who have difficulty reading, as well as children who face other learning difficulties, to choose how and where to study.
The proposal would create accounts similar to the Gardiner Scholarships in Florida (which were recently merged with the McKay Private School Scholarship Program to create Family Empowerment Scholarships), the Empowerment Scholarship accounts in Arizona, and the new account options in West Virginia, Indiana, and New Hampshire.
Legislators in South Carolina’s neighbors to the north, west and two states in the south (North Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi, respectively) allow children with special needs access to educational savings accounts. In fact, North Carolina offers three private school scholarship options for special needs students.
With one account, the state pays a portion of a child’s money from the state formula into a private account that parents use to purchase educational products and services such as textbooks, personal tutoring, private school tuition, and educational therapy.
These options cannot be offered to children in South Carolina quickly enough. As reimagined Senior Writer Lisa explained in an interview with Ellen Weaver, director of the Palmetto Promise Institute, students in South Carolina lag behind their peers in a national comparison. Only Mississippi “prevents South Carolina from coming last in the national rankings,” and its students have shown greater progress in reading on the Nation’s Testimony than South Carolina students in recent years.
The state has not been able to fight its way to a better ranking. According to federal data, South Carolina increased its spend per student nearly 25 percent over an eight-year period from the 1999-2000 school year to the 2017-18 school year. According to Palmetto Promise, there is more than $ 15,500 per student annually.
However, in some of the poorest counties in the state, where student poverty rates rise to 94%, most students cannot read by the end of third grade. In boroughs like Bamberg 2 and Barnwell 19, the percentage of third graders meeting or exceeding reading standards is 10% or less.
Fewer than one in three eighth grade students nationwide has a proficiency in mathematics. In low-income areas like Bamberg and Barnwell, and in larger boroughs like Dillon 4 and Williamsburg (which also have a poverty rate of over 90%), math literacy rates are in the single digits.
While the South Carolina teacher survey found remarkable mobility among teachers, lawmakers should recognize other research showing that significant numbers of students are also moving, with many leaving the public lists entirely. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that public school enrollment fell 2% last fall, a remarkable change from a statistic that barely fluctuates from year to year.
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The absence of students who do not speak English as their first language skyrocketed last year, and school officials across the country are still trying to find thousands of high school students who simply slipped off roles during the pandemic.
Students obviously move, as do teachers. But neither researchers nor educators know where all these young people have gone and have reason to expect the worst, especially among the most disadvantaged student groups.
South Carolina lawmakers have every reason to transform the state’s education market, which is already in favor of teachers, into one that gives students great options to choose from.