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Letter: Gustafson responds to education questions

Posted: October 1, 2018 3:49 p.m.
Updated: October 2, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Thank you, Dr. Frank Morgan, for recently highlighting a list of legitimate educational challenges. As a candidate and the Republican nominee for S.C. House of Representatives for District 52, I want to transcend typical campaign rhetoric and provide clear, direct answers.

During the last year I’ve done my homework -- meeting with teachers, students, administrators, principals, locally elected officials, S.C. legislators and congressmen. The following is a start on legislative action that I want to implement if the voters choose me.

Problem: Too much classroom time spent on standardized testing, including prepping and benchmark testing. Since spring 2016, additional SC READY Assessments in English and math have been required in grades 3-8. Ms. Funderburk has not spoken out against testing increases.

Solution: More teaching, less testing! I’ll propose new legislation to reduce the number of S.C. standardized assessments annually.

Also, the timing of testing needs to be moved from April/May. Testing should occur either at the very end of the academic year, after all classroom instruction has been completed, or in the fall when the test results could be used to help students improve during the rest of the year. Teachers tell me they end up “babysitting” rather than teaching during this odd time between testing and the last day of school.

Problem: Growth in District 52 requires a review of the number/diversity of teachers here and the overall S.C. teacher shortage. Our teaching positions are currently filled, but we need additional instructors, especially language and interventionists. For example, North Central High School only offers Spanish as a foreign language.

Solution: Proper professional pay for our teachers will help. To free state money to boost salaries, I propose deep sales tax exemption reductions. The essential items of food and medicine should remain exempt, but there are many other exemptions that could be eliminated.

We need to recognize that teacher pay is only one part of the equation. We must deal with larger societal problems that have created an exodus of qualified teachers.

Question from Dr. Morgan: Do I support tax credits “for private school tuition if the private schools benefitting are not subject to the same rigorous and transparent accountability requirements as regular public schools?”

Answer: Schools should be first accountable to parents. Private schools are directly accountable, because parents can choose to leave, and the school loses their tuition dollars. With this built-in accountability, private schools don’t need as many layers of accountability as we require of public schools. Of course, all schools should meet some minimum standards. Private schools should not be exempt from the state accreditation standards.

We also need to find additional ways to let parents make choices within the public school system. I will work to expand charter school availability in our district.

Problem: South Carolina is not funding the base student cost specified by law, currently shorting each student by $500 per year. Our district has suffered massive budget cuts since 2009.

Solution: I propose to permanently remove a specific proviso from the S.C. budget.

State law requires that the state spend 57 percent of the general revenue on education. But a proviso that has been tacked onto the state budget since 2010 allows the state to spend only 52 percent, creating a substantial annual shortfall.

Let go of that proviso!

But we need broader education funding reform. The long-term solution is zero-based budgeting for education that includes a reassessment of actual educational costs. That 57 percent figure is based on educational spending in the 2001 budget. But what exactly is the right amount to spend on education? We will not know the answer until we stop “auto pilot budgeting” and determine the actual cost to providing a quality education for every student.

We also need to re-examine how local communities are expected to fund their portion of school expenses and how the state aids communities with a low property tax base. Because the property tax burden is borne by business and rental properties, the disparities in millage rates are breathtaking.

Problem: Our school board does not have full fiscal authority over its own budget or have input on negotiated Fee in Lieu agreements. Educational funding is insufficient and inconsistent.

Solution: The legislative delegation has the power to address these issues directly.

A new formula which takes into account school growth can direct the budgeting processes for both KCC and KCSD. Donnie Wilson, KCSD CFO, has already done this work with precision through the Ad Hoc Committee requested by KCC. Unfortunately, the suggested formula was ignored, and no action was taken. As part of the legislative delegation, I plan to simplify the funding process and actualize this new growth funding formula.

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