Gov. Haley’s Education Plan: More Money


Last week Governor Haley unveiled her K-12 Education Reform Initiative for South Carolina. The governor’s new plan is consistent with most education improvement plans introduced in South Carolina in recent decades: it ignores the single most effective reform that could be enacted, school choice. Rather than pushing for increased choice for South Carolina families, the governor’s $160 million plan is primarily focused on spending more money in poor and under-performing districts. The plan does include a small increase in spending on public charter schools, but the amount is trivial compared to the proposed spending increases for traditional public schools.

Haley’s plan divides its funding between five main areas:

  • $97 million in increased funding for poorer school districts
  • $29.5 million for reading coaches (a new program proposed by Haley)
  • $29.3 million for school technology improvements
  • $750,000 for ten new teachers in the virtual schools program
  • $4 million for the charter school facilities loan program

In essence, the governor’s plan is centered on providing increased resources to our existing public school system. The problem is that pouring more resources into a flawed system does nothing to change or improve the way that system operates. This is evident from studies showing that simple access to technology is not sufficient to improve academic outcomes. Not access, but how tools and resources are used determines educational outcomes. The most important missing element in South Carolina’s school system isn’t resources: it’s competition and innovation.

More broadly, increasing funding for under-performing schools sounds like an intuitive solution, but the historical evidence fails to demonstrate its effectiveness. By 2010, U.S. education spending per student had grown by roughly two and half times its 1970 level after being adjusted for inflation. The result of this increase was a flat-lining in educational achievement. In fact, our research comparing South Carolina school districts found funding levels to be negatively correlated with student achievement. In other words, the higher funded districts tended to produce worse educational results than their lower funded counterparts. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, and these results don’t suggest that cutting school funding is a way to improve educational outcomes. But they do suggest that increasing school spending will not improve outcomes by itself.

On the other hand, increasing the education choices for students and families (school choice) has demonstrated consistent success across the United States. A compilation of empirical studies on the effects of school choice shows the following:

  • School choice programs have positive educational effects on student participants
  • School choice programs improve academic outcomes in public schools
  • School choice programs save taxpayer money
  • School choice programs decrease the level of racial segregation in schools
  • School choice programs improve civic values and practices

None of the studies found a negative impact from school choice on any one of these variables.

Yet South Carolina’s politicians have proven extremely reluctant to advance any far-reaching school choice plans. The one limited school choice plan (with plenty of room for improvement) that garnered attention last year was watered down to a one-year $8 million tax credit scholarship program exclusively for developmentally disabled children. While such a program will likely have beneficial effects for those students who participate, it is far too narrow in scope to have a large effect on educational outcomes in South Carolina.

Many South Carolinians – and an unfortunately high percentage of elected officials – believe that increased funding for public schools will change the face of education in our state. It will not. Without the introduction of competition and choice, performance will get more expensive, not better.

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