Keep Your Hands Off My Stack

Justice, liberty and equality, while etched in the founding documents of our nation, did not come without great sacrifice, and did not come instantly, with the stroke of a pen. Indeed, many here in Fairfield County, not so very long ago, marched and protested and rode busses and carried signs to obtain and ensure those basic rights for all.

It was a battle for the proverbial level playing field, a concept now widely embraced as a universal ideal – until the bulldozers come to plow down the hill upon which your house is built in order to do so.

It is no secret that the State Legislature has, over the last decade or more, turned education funding into a farce, slowly strangling the life out of the future of our children. While the flow of state money has dwindled to a trickle, some school districts – those blessed with a local tax base – have managed to survive, and even thrive, on local revenues. But a large number of districts, with no such base from which to draw, have fallen into a state so terrible as to be equivalent to a Third World country. Thus, a great many of our children here in South Carolina, for no other sin than being born in the wrong place, are damned to a substandard education.

There may be no single plan through which this grievous wrong can be amended, but the S.C. Education Finance Restructuring Act may be a step in the right direction. The act is in its advanced planning stages and won’t even get close to the floor for another legislative session, but it goes a long way toward creating an actual level playing field for state funding. The trick is selling that plan to the school districts siting on the high ground of local money – school districts like Fairfield County.

When the Fairfield County School Board got their first close look at the plan last week, the immediate reaction by several Board members – and members of the audience – was one of outrage: Level the playing field, sure; but not on the back of the Fairfield County School District. While this initial reaction is understandable, it is, in reality, unfounded. The new plan does not take V.C. Summer tax dollars away from the district. While V.C. Summer, like every other entity in the tax base, will be paying into the state pool, the new plan grants local boards the authority to levy their own tax, at up to 8 percent of the assessed value of whatever golden goose happens to reside in their district. V.C. Summer, BMW, Boeing – all the major players in state industry – can still be taxed at the local level.

There’s no conspiracy here to rob Fairfield County; only a genuine effort to provide an equal opportunity for all of our children, regardless of where they were born. Hopefully, we can get beyond the “Mine! Mine! Mine!” attitude and embrace the greater good.