S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, July 17, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0717.poverty3.htm

COMMENTARY
Solving poverty will take years of commitment
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JULY 17, 2005 - - After studying and talking for three weeks about South Carolinians in poverty, there are a couple of clear conclusions that can be drawn:

First, it will be tough for people already mired in poverty’s cycle to get out. Yes, some will emerge because they’ve got innate artistic or athletic talents. But for regular folks who live on a few hundred dollars a week at best, there’s not a quick fix solution.

“There isn’t going to be a lot you can do to substantially improve their condition if they’re middle-aged and particularly if they’re middle-aged and don’t have a lot of job skills,” said Furman University political science professor John Simpkins, who has been studying policy alternatives to help people in poverty.

Baron Holmes, a longtime poverty analyst who runs the state’s Kids Count program for the Budget and Control Board, echoed those sentiments.

“The plight of people who are low-education is pretty awful,” he said. “We’re not saying it’s all over, but there’s a high degree of predictability about their lot in life.”

Despite these sobering assessments, a second conclusion is more heartening: there are strategies that can be taken by governments and volunteer groups that will help break the cycle of poverty. The most promising involves early educational intervention.

“You’ve got to win early,” Holmes said.

To win a war on poverty, the state could invest in developmentally-based early education programs that did more than provide meager child care services for poor people who work. Instead, it could start providing much earlier educational opportunities so that kids start first grade with a better base, which Holmes says will save money in the long run. Such programs initially aren’t cheap, though, and could cost $150 million to $200 million on a sustained basis to do correctly.

“Provide something more than a school-day education,” Simpkins added, “that follows kids outside the school and gives them something that allows them to remain engaged in learning.”

Other policy alternatives:

More training opportunities. As students get older, schools could offer more higher education opportunities earlier for those who will go to college. For those who won’t, they could offer better and more training to provide skills that can help them get jobs.

“Instead of using the 12th grade year as a placeholder, students should have the opportunity to begin the next level of their education - - whether it’s technical or higher education. School-to-work programs and early college entrance opportunities will accomplish that,” Simpkins said.

More tech school opportunities. State officials also could do more to help poor people take advantage of training opportunities through the state’s technical education system, analysts said.

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Tax incentives. The state could consider offering more tax incentives to companies that work to hire poorer people and provide them with training opportunities through tech schools.

Tax credits. Expanding an earned income tax credit for people in poverty could reduce their tax burden and improve their quality of life.

Marriage incentives. With four out of 10 South Carolina children born to single mothers, there’s an automatic stressor created because day care costs eat away at wages earned by mothers so much that work becomes a disincentive. Some suggest providing incentives for families to stay together can create a dynamic where at least one family member is working which, in turn, keeps children out of the worst situations.

Immigration reform. An increasing number of illegal immigrants in South Carolina holds down wages because some employers will hire lower-wage illegals instead of native poor workers. Stronger enforcement of existing employment laws also may discourage in-migration of illegals, who often have lower educational attainment than poor South Carolinians.

Bottom line: The poor and working poor comprise about one in four South Carolinians. State officials need to remember them in public policy decisions - - and do more to make their lives better because if we can’t do more to help those in need of help, what does that say about our values?

NOTE: This is the last installment of a three-part series on South Carolina poverty. For previous columns, see the links below.


RECENT COMMENTARY


McLEMORE'S WORLD
7/17: You can't take it with you

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


LEARN MORE DAILY

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FEEDBACK
7/11: Lawmakers should focus on real problems

To the editor:

There is no doubt that improving education would cut down on poverty, crime and domestic violence. Our legislators are too busy with tattoos, minibottles and other such nonsense to be bothered trying to improve the rural schools. And oh yeah, Laura Bush is in Africa looking at the poverty there. Give me strength.

-- Donna Crile, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

7/11: Need to do more about poverty

To the editor:

Good article. (Commentary, 7/10).

We really overlook these people. After the Civil War, they moved to the places where they were out of sight and out of mind. Now they are needed to play willing, but unknowing, accomplices for a new form of exploitation via unscrupulous developers, and they’ve again suffered so others could make tremendous wealth.

It’s sad, and more need to know about it, and more need to do something about this. We can’t do anything about the past, nor should we be held hostage for what our ancestors did to one another, but if this is allowed to go on, we should be held responsible.

-- Earl Capps, Ladson, SC

7/11: Charter school would help on St. Helena Island

To the editor:

While you and I are probably on opposite ends of the political spectrum, I do read your columns in the Island Packet every week. I do not always agree with what you write, but I do try to understand you points of view.

Your column today was about Poverty and Education on St. Helena Island. I was a bit puzzled with your column in that you emphasized education but focused more or land use and poverty rather than the solution, which you seem to elude (sic) to is education.

You also missed an excellent opportunity to mention a very positive aspect of education on St. Helena Island. Perhaps you were unaware of it.

I am a (71 year old, Hilton Head, white, male, former Yankee) member of a group of people that have formed a Charter School on St. Helena Island which specifically addresses the problems you have, in part, identified. It will be called, "The St. Helena Island Gullah International Academy." We have received approval of our application for a charter school from the SC Department of Education and are awaiting approval from the County Board of Education. The school should be up and running by the fall of 2006.

This school formation is the result of a number of residents, parents, students and community leaders on St. Helena Island and throughout the county that recognize that the best way to move people out of poverty and into the mainstream is by education. Our charter school is intended to do just that. It will start out as a K through 5 school and add a sixth, seventh and eighth grade each year thereafter. The school is being build for 500 students.

My personal belief is that local communities need to take back control of their public schools. "Cookie Cutter" solutions to education at a
state level have absolutely failed all over the United States. Our school is just one example of how to overcome this. The school and its curriculum will be designed for the school's students and their needs. Also, the school will be open to all applicants from all of Beaufort County.

I hope you support school choice as a means to achieve a better education for our children. I write this not as a representative of the forming group of this school, but as a private citizen very interested in improving public education in our state.

-- Tom Hatfield, Hilton Head Island, SC

7/10: Grant program addresses Pee Dee poverty

To the editor:

As Director of the Francis Marion University Center of Excellence to Prepare Teachers of Children of Poverty, I have read with interest your pieces on poverty in SC.

August marks the beginning of the second year of a five year grant awarded by the Commission on Higher Education. The project includes partnerships with our 18 Pee Dee region school districts and numerous other universities and agencies. Our goal is to increase the success of children living in poverty by crafting research-driven and specifically-focused programs delivered at FMU, in partner school districts, and in their communities. These programs are focused in four key areas: undergraduate teacher education, in-service teacher development, school-family-community partnership development, and advanced study (master's degrees) programs. If we are successful in each of these four areas, then our fifth goal, to become known as the premier resource for teachers that work with children of poverty, will be attained.

Thank you for continuing to highlight this great need in South Carolina.

-- Tammy Pawloski, Professor of Education, Francis Marion University, Florence, SC

7/9: Regional approach on prosperity

To the editor:

Readers may be interested in one major effort to implement the kind of regional approach suggested by the Southern Growth Policies Board (Commentary, 6/26) in the Rural Policies Research Institute's recent Congressional testimony, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia and others: Southern Passages.

Southern Passages is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote economic prosperity throughout the coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Advocates and their partners blend economic development, education, cultural and historic conservation as well as environmental enhancement to heighten the overall southern experience. Since I-95 was completed, the majority of southbound traffic has been drawn away from the old U.S. 17/A1A corridor with its small towns and their locally owned motels, cafes and shops along Main Street. Much of the historic fabric of these towns, their economic bases and the natural assets of the rural areas between I-95 and the Atlantic remain intact. While there is much diversity in the region, all share some common threads that could be woven into a rich fabric of “the Southern Passage.”

Southern Passages is about strengthening place and regional identity, fostering mutual understanding, diversifying and expanding the tourism market, celebrating local heritage, conserving important resources, and creating jobs. The private sector interests, public agencies, nonprofit organizations and heritage development advocates in 27 counties along the Atlantic Coast that make up Southern Passages have worked together for nearly ten years in an effort to stimulate economic development in the region’s small towns and rural communities.

-- Laura Morris, Mount Pleasant, SC

KEEPING TRACK
Ahead on structural deficits

This section tracks past forecasts by Statehouse Report with other media reports:

In Statehouse Report:

5/29/05: State has a long way to go on solid budgeting: "A new report says South Carolina is among 11 of the states in the nation that face the highest risk of not having enough money down the road to pay for its current level of programs and services. Because of the way the state's tax system is set up, its shrinking tax bases will grow at a smaller rate than the costs to maintain government programs at current levels."

In The State:

6/28/05: Scoppe: Report warns of dangers without smart reform to taxes. "The report suggests several ways to modernize a tax system to keep up with economic and population changes, among them extending the sales tax to cover more services, reducing or eliminating age-based tax breaks, strengthening the administration of property taxes and reducing property tax exemptions. Along with that, other taxes can be reduced or eliminated."


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

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

Thumbs up

Sanford. It's good Gov. Mark Sanford asked the State Ethics Commission to fast-track an online disclosure system.

Bridge. Hats off to the state for completing the new Cooper River Bridge a year early and under budget. But did we have to spend so much money on a fireworks display? Seems as if people could have been helped in real ways with the $250,000 spent on the show.

Abbeville. Congrats to the community for being the first in the state to apologize for past lynchings.

Thumbs down

Sanford. The governor is sending mixed messages when he "told a newspaper 'it hasn’t been proven yet'that state universities can create jobs through research." Don't tell that to lawmakers, who have pumped millions into research in hopes of getting jobs.

Credit rating. Thumbs down to all responsible for a lowered state credit rating -- the governor and state lawmakers -- for not doing enough to create jobs and ignite the economy. The governor's meddling with Santee Cooper certainly didn't help either.

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