Board of Education to discuss lobbying efforts intended to get more state funding

August 15, 2010 

The Board of Education plans to hear an evaluation from McNair Law Firm on Tuesday on what it might take to get Beaufort County its fair share of state money for public schools.

Members of Beaufort County Council and the school board met with McNair representatives last week to discuss the work the firm did for the county and school district during the legislative session.

School board chairman Fred Washington Jr. said he hopes to make the information public when it is shared with the full school board during Tuesday's regular meeting.

Last winter, County Council and the school board agreed to pay the firm $21,000 to analyze legislation and proposals to change how state money is allocated to public schools. It also was to help Beaufort County identify partners who might be motivated to push reform -- lawmakers representing other counties that, like Beaufort, send much more money to Columbia than they get back.

Despite efforts by lawmakers from Beaufort and other coastal counties, 2010-11 will mark the third consecutive school year the Beaufort County School District has not received money through the 1977 Education Finance Act, the state's primary education funding formula.

County Council chairman Weston Newton said McNair representatives reported that discussions of reforming the formula picked up momentum this year, partly as a result of efforts by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to draw attention to inequities.

"At the end of the session, the idea of education funding was no longer a second-tier, bottom-drawer topic," Newton said. "There is a recognition that it needs to be addressed."

That means chances for a legislative fix of the formula are better, Newton said.

Davis agreed progress has been made. He said he received public assurances from Senate leadership of both political parties that the formula would be adjusted next year.

"Getting a formula that has been broken for decades fixed in my first term as a senator will be tough but it has to be done and it can be done," Davis said.

McNair's research also analyzed the possibility of suing the state if the General Assembly doesn't change the formula, Newton said.

He added that a direct challenge to the funding formula probably isn't in the county's best interest, but a narrowly focused lawsuit might be successful.

Newton said McNair's evaluation doesn't include a suggested course of action at this point.

"It was a broad-brush view of the landscape and where we are with regard to the education funding formula," he said.

Newton said the next step is to ask McNair to lay out a specific proposal of how the county and school district could help its legislative delegation solve the funding inequities and what that would take in terms of cost and effort. That step would require additional money, Newton said.

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