SOUTH CAROLINA, USA — A new report by Good Jobs First found South Carolina schools lost out on $2.2 billion over the last five years that instead went toward corporate tax breaks. The nonprofit research group found no other state reported more lost school tax revenue to corporations than South Carolina.
"It really infuriates me as a teacher that you say you can't afford to give me a raise or you can't afford to fix the air conditioning in a county, yet you give a company millions of dollars to come into our state to set up shop, but you don't take care of the people that are taking care of your children," South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said. "We're giving away the money to these companies that are moving here and they're not paying a portion of their taxes that would normally go into the school revenue."
South Carolina gives counties the power to award tax breaks with the intention of helping the local economy, but Good Jobs First concluded local school districts lose out the most.
"The biggest loser in that transaction is the school district," Executive Director Greg LeRoy said.
He doesn't believe tax incentives actually entice companies. Instead, he said a strong workforce and quality of life, which includes a great education system, matter more.
"If a state allows the counties to underfund the schools, to disinvest the schools, you're really shooting yourself in the foot," LeRoy said. "You're harming your business climate."
The nonpartisan organization's report found the Chester County School District loses, on average, more than $1,000 per student annually in tax abatements. The nonprofit's analysis of state records identified that lost revenues there have more than tripled since 2017. Voters recently voted down a school bond referendum in Chester County for the third time in a row.
South Carolina has remained aggressive in dangling tax breaks to recruit businesses. East, a science teacher at Rock Hill High School, said she understands the need to entice businesses at the county level. However, she is demanding more transparency and oversight.
"Let's hold them accountable," she said. "We need to check on these companies. After 10 years, did they do what they said they'd do?"
East is also asking counties to include school boards in economic development talks moving forward.
"It's costing the children of South Carolina," East said of the status quo.
WCNC Charlotte made multiple attempts to give Chester County Supervisor Dr. Wylie Frederick the chance to justify the county's economic development decision-making, but three emails and a phone call went unreturned.
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