Originally created 12/16/05

Leader seeks full per-pupil funding



COLUMBIA - When the state underfunds education, it's the everyday things that get harder, Bluffton Elementary School Principal Kathleen Corley said.

And finding a different pot of money isn't always easy.

"We don't want to ask our parents to all send in a printer cartridge or a ream of paper," Ms. Corley said.

So she "absolutely" agrees with Inez Tenenbaum, the state superintendent of education, who told a House subcommittee Thursday that fully funding the base student cost, the state's bottom-line, per-pupil funding amount, is her department's No. 1 budgetary priority.

Ms. Tenenbaum asked for $58 million to meet the $2,367 per-student cost projected for next year.

Facing a struggling economy, the General Assembly underfunded the base formula for several years, beginning in 2000, Department of Education spokesman Jim Foster said.

That year, for example, the projected per-student cost was $2,012, and the Legislature approved $2,002, Mr. Foster said.

But he added that, each year, the disparity grew between what was requested and what was given.

Last spring, however, legislators voted to fully fund base cost for this year, and Ms. Tenenbaum is optimistic they will do so again in 2006.

She also is pushing for $45 million to expand the state's kindergarten program for 4-year-olds, which Ms. Corley said helps children transition into school.

"First and foremost, confidence," she said. "They know their way around the building. They've been in every part of the building. They know some of the people."

"It's more about getting along, understanding how the whole system works. And if you can get that as a 4-year-old, imagine how much time we all save when they're 5 years old," Ms. Corley said.

Bluffton Elementary School added a full-day program for 4-year-olds this year, in addition to the two half-day programs the school already had.

Ms. Tenenbaum's proposal would pay for 28,000 of the 4-year-olds considered at risk of eventually dropping out of school to attend a full-day kindergarten program.

She originally intended to request $100 million to fund a half-day program for all of the state's estimated 54,000 4-year-olds, but opted instead to focus on those who are in the most danger of not succeeding because of poverty, developmental disabilities or other factors.