Thursday, April 29, 2010

Education in South Carolina

I've just returned from the State Teacher of the Year Banquet, where a Spanish teacher from Greenville won the prestigious award for 2011. Although it would have been a great honor for Lisa to win, we're both really glad she didn't win. Maybe in a few years, should she have the honor to serve again as District T.O.T.Y, she could manage to have a family and travel across the state acting as the "education ambassador."

I was blown away by the magnitude of the celebration. Excellent food, music (all students from public schools), an open bar (!), and some great conversation with Lisa's fellow district winners. Lisa met a lot of the district winners at a conference in Myrtle Beach back in February, and had made quite a few friends. It was nice to see her enjoying herself with her peers -- peers in every sense of the word. All are just as motivated as she is in the classroom, and I think it was rejuvenating for her to spend time with like-minded people. I certainly enjoyed seeing her connect with these great teachers.

With the good times comes some clouds on the horizon. Hanging over everyone's head was the inevitable budget problems that every district in the state will be forced to deal with (if they haven't already). Furloughs, pay cuts, supply cuts, lost jobs, bigger classes are just a few of the plethora of bad news our besieged schools have been dealing with.

We actually got to go the SC Statehouse (which I shamefully have never been to before -- it was stunning), where the teachers were recognized in both chambers of the legislature. With this came the revelation that the current budget level for public education in South Carolina is at 1995 levels. Unreal, considering the population boom since then. There aren't any easy answers, of course, and that was a point that was struck home by our own state Senator, Gerald Malloy.

Lisa and I got to speak with him about what his thoughts were -- tax reform on the state level as a start -- but he criticized Lisa's school district's handling of the funding surplus. Evidently, Darlington County School District uses the highest percentage of tax revenue allowed by state law. However, not all of the money goes into the yearly budget of the district. Some of these funds are held in a rainy day account for emergency use. Someone mentioned that it was recommended that the districts carry 5-10% of their budget in this account, or about enough funding for 3 months of expenditures. Lisa knew about this, and due to her frugal nature, disagreed with Senator Malloy about this rainy day fund.

I like the middle road (what a shock!) - use some of this fund now, and save some for a contingency. Replenish the fund when the economy rebounds. If it isn't "raining" in South Carolina right now, then what would they consider rain?

All in all, it was a great 24 hours. Although I was always proud of Lisa's accomplishments as a teacher, I've never been more proud than I was today.

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