Originally created 04/01/04

Public schools might get boost



AIKEN - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's proposal to give a tax credit to low- and moderate-income parents who send their children to private school would pump money into public schools instead of draining them, a study funded by a conservative think tank said.

Released Wednesday by the South Carolina Policy Council, the study by a Clemson University economics professor found that the Put Parents in Charge Act would benefit public schools because the resources freed by a pupil moving to a private, charter or home school are greater than the money that leaves the system.

The school losing a child will still receive the majority of its local funds and the entirety of its federal funds, while the parent receives the tax credit needed for private school tuition, said Cotton Lindsay, a Clemson University economics professor in charge of the study.

Critics argue that taking pupils out of public school classrooms doesn't change fixed costs, such as teachers' salaries and money to heat and cool schools.

"We reject the findings of that study completely," said Paul Krohne, the executive director of the South Carolina School Board Association. "We don't save money when a child leaves the school. This whole tax-credit idea is a smoke screen for voucher programs that will eventually fund private schools with tax dollars.

"This is a message of abandonment from the governor, and he is running away from public schools. There is no accountability, no testing or curriculum standards in private schools."

Ed McMullen, the president of the South Carolina Policy Council, defended the findings. He said it costs about $8,324 to educate a pupil each year; but because the tax credit provides only $3,200 to $4,600, depending on the child's grade level, the leftover money will go back into the public school system.

"Parents benefit by having more opportunities for different school arrangements and the act increases funding for education," he said. "The reality of this data is that school choice increases overall funding for students."

In a prepared statement, Mr. Sanford agreed: "I'm here to try new things, and this study is added proof that our Put Parents in Charge proposal - in addition to giving parents more choices and kids more opportunities - also provides more money for each child on the public education side of the marketplace."

But Jan McCarthy, the president of the South Carolina Education Association, said the proposed tax credit will harm the state's public school system. She said the plan would not help poor parents send their child to a private school - tuition will still cost more than the credit will provide.

Local educators said the study doesn't make sense.

"The author of the study does not have a clear understanding of the operations of the system," said Frank Roberson, the associate superintendent for instruction for Aiken County. "I think if you look at the movement of dollars, it will not give you a true picture of what it actually costs to educate a student."

Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395 or peter.gilchrist@augustachronicle.com