S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1114.voucher.htm

COMMENTARY
Public schools to be targeted in next legislative session
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 14, 2004 - - Make no mistake about it: school voucher advocates are trying to sell South Carolina taxpayers a bill of goods.

Gov. Mark Sanford's so-called "Put Parents In Charge" proposal seeks to give tax credits to parents who want to send their kids to private schools or educate them in their homes.

In reality, the proposed tax credits of an average of $4,000 are nothing more than a cynical attempt to undercut public education by underfunding it. In reality, the "Put Parents In Charge" proposal would suck public dollars from public schools and force them into a downward spiral. In other words, in a state where many schools are already struggling, taking more money away from them would create larger classes, provide fewer resources and hurt the quality of education statewide.

If approved, South Carolina would guarantee that it would remain at the bottom of the nation's education list.

Voucher advocates say public schools won't lose money. Hogwash. If you take away money from public schools and give it to parents so they can send their kids to other institutions, the schools have less money. That means future cuts in teachers or resources.

Voucher advocates discount claims that only richer folks will use the credits to send their kids to private schools. They say the average tuition at South Carolina private schools is $4,000. But this argument is insincere.

Cecil Cahoon of the S.C. Education Association notes that almost half of South Carolina's taxpayers earn $15,000 or less per year. What low-income parent is going to be able to cut a $4,000 or $10,000 tuition check up front and wait for months to be able to get the tax credit on the following year's tax return?

So who would use the tax credit? Mostly, the people who already can afford to send their kids to private school. In other words, the rich would get richer while the poor would suffer or shoulder more of the education burden.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Extreme wing angels in heaven

FEEDBACK: Better two-party system needed

SCORECARD: Who's up and down

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Voucher advocates have a head of steam behind them now with the governor's full backing. In the coming legislative session, it's likely that the S.C. House will act promptly on the school voucher proposal - - in part because Republicans have overwhelming control of the chamber. Many observers look for the House to send Sanford's proposal to the House within weeks of the session starting.

But when it gets to the Senate, its future is murkier. Even though there is a GOP majority in the state Senate, current Senate rules make it easy for people to filibuster the proposal. But Sanford and some Senate leaders are pushing rules changes that would lower the threshold of the number of senators needed to stop filibusters. That change will be considered on the first day of the Senate's meeting in January. If successful, it could signal good news for voucher proponents.

State Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, vows however to have a full, robust debate on any voucher proposal.

"I don't have any preconceived idea of how it's going to play out in the Senate Education Committee," said Courson, who will chair the committee next year.

Sen.-elect Joel Lourie, a Richland County Democrat, says he remains surprised that the debate on vouchers is even going on because the Legislature has underfunded public schools for years. To take dollars away from public education is simply destructive, he says.

"One of the most important responsibilities of government is to provide a sound public education system," Lourie said. "This is a program we shouldn't even be considering cutting. It's shocking and disappointing we're even having this conversation."

Cahoon adds the voucher proposal would shrink the total amount of funds going into the state's general fund. If that happened, more than education programs could be at risk. Lawmakers, for example, could continue to fund education at current levels, but wreak havoc on other agency budgets which have incurred millions and millions of dollars of cuts over the last three years.

He also says that the proposed voucher plan has little accountability because the public dollars used to subsidize private education would have no strings attached to them.

"Why shouldn't that same level of accountability exist for state dollars going to any school that is not a public school?"

More than anything, the school voucher proposal is worrisome because it seems to be a kind of re-segregation of schools based on wealth. If the plan goes through, there's a great chance that wealthier parents will pull their kids out of public schools and leave poorer children with schools that don't have as much as they do now.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
11/14: Extreme wing angels

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:


FEEDBACK
11/8: SC would be better with two-party system

SC would be better served with a strong two-party system instead of one controling political party (See Commentary, 11/7). I was the only individual who challenged an incumbent as a Democrat from Greenville County for the SC House. Greenville County area residents seem oblivious to the goings on in Columbia, but as the largest populated county, we alone control 13 seats in the Statehouse.

If the metropolitan counties of Greenville and Spartanburg actively recruited more Democratic candidates and actively supported them, SC would see changes. One major obstacle is the Greenville media outlets amnesiac coverage toward the Statehouse. As a recent former USC graduate student, I was amazed by the Columbia area media coverage toward the General Assembly (that) Upstate residents simply do not get.

Elections are only meaningful when there are challengers. Even in hopeless cases, challengers keep the officeholders honest and focused on the needs of citizens rather than on simply accumulating and holding power and perks.

Occasionally a challenger wins. Those wins infuse the system with new ideas, and new excitement, engage more citizens, and provide a salutary object lesson for other elected officials who have let their attention drift away from the needs of their constituents.

-- Luanne McIntyre Taylor, Greenville, S.C.


11/8: More competition is better, Republican agrees

Andy, once again, you make some very good points(See Commentary, 11/7). This Republican has no problem with a little more active and principled competition. When the Democrats are prepared to either run to win, or at least run respectable, Alex Sanders-type statesmen, it will hold us Republicans more accountable for what we say and what we do.

As I once pointed out on my post-election message on the EvacuateHodges.com website, those Republicans who fail to learn from the lessons of defeats at the hands of Democrats are doomed to repeat them, and the people of this state are the real losers when those lessons fail to be learned by either side.

To those Democrats who wish to make their party into a team which can increase political accountability for all, as well as the number of constructive inputs into the process of governance, I wish them luck … but not too much luck!

-- Earl Capps, Summerville, S.C.


11/8: Column was Democratic front

To the editor:

As a Republican, I too was amazed at DeMint's homophobic comment (See Commentary, 10/10). I have, also, always been amazed by John Graham Altman's bigoted comments. But I don't paint the entire party as homophobic because of one or two individuals' comments.

But aren't you doing the same thing in your column? "A bunch of white guys"? That's Democratic code for "the rich" which somehow gets demonized by every Democrat for their success and money: money which Democrats want to re-distribute to their base. The "politics of division" indeed.

Also, I did not see anywhere in your article condemnation for overboard assertions from Democrats in the past election. If you are going to write an article only from the Democrat's point of view, at least have a banner that states, " Approved by the Democratic Party". By the way, Michael Graham is a "conservative columnist", not a "Republican columnist".

-- Barry Blake, Mount Pleasant, S.C.


11/7: Where's the coordinated Democratic effort?

I may be wrong, but my impression is that SC Democrats have failed in mutual support. As hard as Charlie Smith worked in the campaign for the State Legislature, he garnered little or no support from the State and County leaders. It was similar in the last election, when Lindsey Graham campaigned successfully as a team-player with other Republicans, aptly portrayed in the brochure they distributed as "The Republican Team."

Where's the coordinated Democratic team effort? Where's Democratic mutual support? Where's effective statements of a shared Democratic vision? This should be a call to order for party leaders: think as a team or go down as independents.

-- David Bossman, Charleston


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SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Leventis. Hats off to Sen. Phil Leventis for widening his slim victory margin to just over 80 votes. Challenger Dickie Jones would be better served to call off any future challenges lest he be seen as a sore loser.

BMW/SC Ports. By agreeing on a 10-year deal, both entities have provided security for themselves -- and affiliated businesses for the long run.

Thumbs down

National Dems. Message to national Democratic Party: Here's a bad idea -- considering state chair Joe Erwin or State Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum for national party chair. They need o stay home to rebuild state Dems and an effective two-party system.


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