DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Dorchester School District 2 has one of the highest graduation rates of any district in the Lowcountry. It is routinely ranked in the top ten for overall achievement in the state.
It is also one of the worst funded.
“I see opportunities for our students. I see opportunities for our teachers. I see programs and initiatives that we have to pass on every single year,” said school board member Justin Farnsworth.
DD2 was estimated to receive $11,970 per student from a mix of local, state and federal funding for the 2020-21 school year.
Compare that to the $16,628 per student Dorchester School District Four was estimated to receive or the $20,524 in Charleston County School District and you may be able to understand Farnsworth’s frustration. The Berkeley County School district was estimated to receive $13,195 per student.
“It’s never a matter of going above and beyond and doing what we should really be able to do. It’s being able to do the absolutely barebones minimum with the lack of funding,” Farnsworth said. “We are very fortunate to have amazing professionals.”
In 2006, ACT 388 was approved by voters which changed the funding formula for schools.
The act did away with property tax on homes to fund school operations in exchange for allowing a one cent increase to the sales tax. As a suburb community, Dorchester District 2 has a large number of homes and significantly fewer businesses. Ultimately, DD2 is hit twice in the funding formula: once for lack of tax being collected on homes and again when people choose to shop in other areas.
Farnsworth says state lawmakers need to figure out how to fund schools more equitably.
“Every single year this problem is not tackled, identified and nothing done about it. It just compounds every single year,” Farnsworth said. “Until folks really understand and are able to advocate for change, my concern is that nothing will change.”
If DD2 was funded per student at the same level as CCSD, it would have $225 million more in revenue. That would be a game changer for a parent like LaTonya Owings who has children in programs at other school districts.
“I have a 6-year-old. She is in kindergarten and last year, because DD2 doesn’t offer Head Start and I qualified for Head Start, I drove her to Berkeley County for the whole year,” Owings said. “Berkeley County has a lot of Head Start programs.”
She says if the district had more money, it could offer more opportunities for students and families. She would like to see merit play a role in funding.
“It should be based on rankings, the education our children are receiving, test scores – all of this stuff,” Owings said. “If we are supposed to be number one or in the top two or three then we should be granted funding.”
The Head Start program is just one example, but Farnsworth says he would like to see money go towards developing more career opportunities for students and pay raises for teachers and staff.