S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, March 20, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0320.voucher.htm


COMMENTARY
Voucher bill could lead to school resegregation
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

MARCH 20, 2005 - - If people think the ill-named "Put Parents In Charge" legislation backed by GOP Gov. Mark Sanford is no big deal, they're wrong.

It is a big deal. Siphoning public money for private education could lead to school resegregation, says the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, the much-respected African American minister at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston. Many recall Darby, who is first vice president of the S.C. NAACP, as the man who gave invocations at the inauguration of Sanford and his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges.

Darby sees Sanford's voucher proposal as one of the worst education ideas to come along in a long time.

For years, Darby says, South Carolina hasn't adequately funded public education, particularly in the rural areas. A lawsuit brought by poorer school districts seeking fairer education funding featured 16 months of testimony that wrapped up late last year. A decision is expected this summer.


The Rev. Joseph A. Darby

"I refuse to write off schools that have never been given the chance to compete on a level playing field, and find it hypocritical that those that refused to equitably fund our schools decide to try 'something new' and blithely calling it 'Putting Parents in Charge' to disguise a legislative wolf in sheep's clothing," Darby wrote this week in an e-mail to a voucher-backed group seeking support from black preachers.

Darby said if money is drained now from public schools to provide "tax credits" to parents who send their kids to private schools, students in many public schools will suffer consequences of already underfunded schools.

"It's a continuation of that same kind of paternalistic thinking that South Carolina has always had, and that's what's been holding us back," he said.

In the e-mail, he claimed the ballyhooed voucher effort is little more than a frightening attempt to modernize two strategies used in the 1960s to block school desegregation effort.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Baseball on Capitol Hill

FEEDBACK: Sanford's folly

SCORECARD: Thumbs up/down and mixed reviews

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"One of those was called 'freedom of choice,' which allowed parents to send their children to any public school that they pleased to slow down desegregation. The other, which was ultimately outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court, allowed parents to have tax credits and scholarships to send their children to all-white private schools created with the expressed purpose of maintaining segregation.

"Those private schools, many of which now chase the dollars that the present legislation would offer, served to set public education back by decades in South Carolina, and our Governor wants to abandon those public schools instead of fixing them."

In an interview, Darby added, "It outrages me that 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the same strategies used to fight Brown v. Board are being brought up by our elected officials."

Tom Truitt, executive director of the Pee Dee Education Center in Florence, said Darby is onto a strong argument.

"The obligation of the state is to provide an education for all of the children and it makes no sense if we're going to live in an integrated society to provide education in a segregated manner."

He added the idea that tax credits (vouchers) for private school education would help public schools is a notion "that does not pass the common sense test."

Maybe the ills of vouchers are getting through to people and politicians. In the past couple of weeks, Rep. Ronnie Townsend, the Anderson Republican who chairs the House Education and Public Works Committee, told constituents the Sanford plan was merely a tax cut to help the wealthy that masqueraded as an education bill, according to the SC Education Association.

Also, Rep. Jim McGee, R-Florence, disingenuously tried to distance himself from the voucher idea in a recent letter to a Florence newspaper, even though he's still a co-sponsor of two versions of the voucher bill.

Finally, senior Senate sources claim the measure will get nowhere this year.

Meanwhile, proponents of the measure seem to be using more desperate tactics - - from writing fictitious letters to the editor and threatening letters to school boards to working stealthily to create support for the proposal among black preachers and spending thousands of dollars on television commercials.

If public school advocates don't remain vigilant and thwart sneaky, hypocritical tactics, they may find voucher proponents will lose the battle this year, but eventually win the war.

RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
3/20: Baseball pitches to Capitol Hill

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK
3/18: Writer outlines the "Sanford Folly"

To the editor:

The Sanford Folly - Our Children Are Suffering While He Spins In His Fantasy

No matter how you approach the proposition, it is wrong! We have a duty and a responsibility as a free and democratic people to educate our citizens.

This year I will complete over 31 years of continous military service, including deployments in the Far East, Europe and the Middle East during OIF. Freedom is not something I take lightly, and I mean freedom for all of God's people.

I grew up in the segregated South, I remember those dark times, and I regret we were so ignorant, so uncaring and selfish, and still those sins haunt us today, and yes we still march down that same darn road -- just look at that flag on the Statehouse grounds. It is a reminder of that past, which is still our present and the questions remains - "Will It Be Our Future!" We do have a choice, let's do something about it NOW! We owe it to our children, all children regardless of race, creed or national origin!!!

Enough is enough!

-- Sandy Gibson, Lexington, S.C.

SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

The State newspaper. Congrats to The State for spending the time and money to look behind campaign donations and for putting a tool online to help people know who gives to their lawmakers.

Darby. Hats off to the Rev. Joe Darby for speaking up about how the school voucher bill may lead to school resegregation.

Mixed signals

Rep. James Smith. Seems if you're going to put up 8,000 amendments to stall tort reform, it doesn't look good to cave within a day.

State budget. Everybody seems ecstatic that the $5.9 billion state budget swiftly and unanimously passed in the House. But it seems like there ought to be more debate about spending that will affect so many.

Thumbs down

SCRG. South Carolinians for Responsible Government, the pro-voucher group, continues to spiral down with deceptive and misleading political tactics in their at-all-costs strategy to win a victory on school tax credits for private education.

Tort reform. A sweeping tort reform package has passed the House and Senate and is on the way to the governor. While some of the bill's provisions are good, such as tightening venue rules and stemming frivolous lawsuits, we still worry it will take away too many freedoms from hard-working South Carolinians.


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