SC Public Schools Lost $534M to Corporate Tax Breaks in FY 2021

May 12, 2022

Annual Losses Growing at ~$50M per Year since 2017

State sign welcoming people to South Carolina. Instead of "South Carolina Welcomes You," the You is crossed out and instead it says "South Carolina Welcomes Big Business"

Washington, DC — South Carolina’s public schools reported $534 million in revenues lost to corporate tax abatements in FY 2021, an increase of 65% compared to just four years earlier.

In the five years such reporting has been required, South Carolina schools have lost a total of $2.2 billion.

No other state in the nation reports that much school revenue lost to corporations. It means less money for early childhood education, smaller class sizes, public health, emergency medical assistance, community centers, roads, sanitation, and other vital services.

Read the full report.

Alarmingly, these abatements from already-underfunded South Carolina schools show no signs of slowing down: Annual reported losses have been growing by $50 million per year since tax-break disclosures began in 2017, for a cumulative five-year total of $2.2 billion.

As the costliest local public service, school districts in South Carolina typically lose even five or six times as much as the county, even though the county controls the abatement awards.

The highest-losing school district in the state, Berkeley County, reported $84 million in FY 2021 alone—about double the loss it reported in 2017. By contrast, 2% pay raises for every teacher in the district (who makes less than $50,000 per year after 10 years of experience), would cost $4.5 million.

Not only does Berkeley County top the state, it ranks No. 3 in the nation – the only two districts that abated more revenue were the Hillsboro 1j District in Oregon and Philadelphia City Schools in Pennsylvania, according to a Good Jobs First analysis of available data.

South Carolina’s counties are known for subsidizing industrial development on a large scale and over a long period. In addition, these programs—known as Fee in Lieu of Taxes, Special Source Revenue Credit, and Multi-County Industrial Park—disproportionately benefit large corporations. BMW and Google, for example, are among past recipients.

Two-thirds of the school districts in South Carolina that have at least five years’ worth of data are losing more revenue over time. Among them are several disadvantaged districts such those in Chester, Dillon, and Dorchester counties. Moreover, South Carolina’s top-losing school districts have higher child poverty than the state average, which is already higher than most other states’.

The Good Jobs First study recommends four ways to counteract long-term disinvestment in public education: 

1) Shield public K-12 tax revenues from all tax abatement awards, as is done in Florida

2) Mandate advance disclosure of proposed abatement deals to enable public debate and community benefit agreements

3) Require counties to disclose deal-specific, company-specific performance reports on every project for the life of its abatement

4) Publish regular performance audits on the effectiveness of each subsidy program

Join us May 17 for a discussion: “How Corporate Tax Avoidance Harms South Carolina Students”

Image of four panelists and the language "How corporate tax breaks harm South Carolina students"

On Tuesday, May 17 join us for a conversation about the impact of corporate tax breaks on South Carolina students, teachers and the entire school community. The conversation, moderated by Good Jobs First, includes (but is not limited to) Dr. Kendall Deas, who runs a South Carolina-based nonprofit called the Quality Education Project and Sherry East, president of The South Carolina Education Association.

We’ll start off the event with a look at the findings, and tell you how to look for money your community may be giving up to corporate tax breaks using a financial statement found in many end-of-year government spending documents. Then Deas and Jaeck will talk about the ways corporate giveaways impact student learning and what can be done to improve the situation.

Set a reminder on YouTubeFacebook or head to Twitter for the live broadcast. Questions? Email [email protected].

Good Jobs First is a national policy resource center based in Washington, DC that promotes corporate and government accountability in economic development.