S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 23, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0423.education.htm

On education, earlier is better
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 23, 2006 - - If you're sick, you probably go to a doctor for a professional opinion and follow his advice. If you're really sick, you might get a second opinion.

But you don't go around to dozens of doctors seeking the opinion you're looking for. That's just not smart. In the meantime, you get sicker.

With South Carolina's public education system, it sometimes feels like the lawmakers who make decisions on education don't listen to the pros - - people who teach every day and who deal with educational challenges every hour. Instead, they keep looking for political solutions they like - - vouchers, charter schools, uniforms, more discipline, later start dates and whatnot.

But a new ongoing study by Furman University's Riley Institute is powerful evidence that lawmakers need to listen more to the people who are involved daily with education.

According to the Furman study, 49 out of 50 South Carolina superintendents agree with this statement: "The sooner a student gets in a structured education program, the more likely that student will stay in school and succeed."

These superintendents believe it is important or essential for South Carolina to offer full-day kindergarten programs and early childhood education programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Last year, state lawmakers were on pins and needles about a pending decision in a school equity lawsuit brought by eight poor school districts that said they weren't getting their fair share of school resources to provide a decent education to students. After a highly visible trial of more than 100 days, lawmakers expected a ruling that would force them to do what should have been done years ago - - fund poor school districts at a higher level so they can offer better tools to the mostly rural student population.


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Legislators dodged the bullet at the end of 2005 after state Judge Thomas Cooper ruled the state needed to pay for early childhood education for kids in poverty, but didn't give a monetary remedy to the decision. Despite crumbling schools and districts that need better teachers, Cooper also surprised many by ruling the state provided safe facilities and "minimally competent teachers."

Bottom line: Instead of having to come up with a billion dollars to right past public education wrongs, Cooper's ruling kept most things about the same and lawmakers really didn't have to do much at all.

Sure, there was some talk about "doing the right thing" for poor students. But look at what's happened:

  • The state has $925 million in "new" money that it is considering as part of the $6.5 billion state budget. Of that, $383 million is new recurring revenue and $426 million in surplus revenue.

  • In an amazing display of political arrogance or brazen blindness, the House approved a budget that included $6 million - - yes, a whopping $6 million - - for a pilot project for 4-year-old kindergarten in a handful of poor districts. Talk about ignoring a festering problem.

  • The Senate, now considering the budget, says it can "find" $24 million to boost 4-K programs, which led a House committee to agree the amount could help 11,361 poor children in 36 districts.

Earth to legislators: There are about 56,000 students in the state who could benefit from a solid 4-K program. About 31,000 of them are considered "at risk;" two-thirds of those aren't in any kind of 4-K program.

To fund a program for all 4-year-olds and really do the right thing, the state would spend about $150 million a year. To fund a program for just those kids at risk who aren't in existing programs, as called for in March by the state Education Oversight Committee, the state would have to spend up to $85 million annually in teaching and accountability programs.

South Carolina has limped along for years with inadequate funding for great public schools throughout the state. Instead of continuing the game of "getting by" and breathing a sigh of relief when Judge Cooper didn't order a billion dollars of changes, the state needs to be proactive by fully funding 4-K education. Then, lawmakers need to work on comprehensive 3-K education

It's time to listen to professionals, such as the superintendents in the Furman study. It's time to really invest in South Carolina's future.

lighter side

4/21: Everything costs more

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

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Recent feedback

Ahead on local government

A look at how you often learn first about things in SC Statehouse Report:

From Statehouse Report, 1/6/06:

"For years, the tension between local and state elected officials has simmered over many issues, such as the state not funding all of its edicts to the counties and/or cities. Locals have resented the fact that the General Assembly has never completely fulfilled the constitutional "home rule'' provisions, but is already planning to ask voters to change "home rule'' to "state rule'' on such areas as public education."

-- Editor Jerry C. Ausband

From The Greenville News, 4/20/06:

"House bill 4503 would require county and municipal government to pay landowners if the zoning decisions they make prevent landowners from obtaining the full speculative value of their property. Thus, if a coastal community zoned to prevent 10-story hotels or other communities zoned to prevent industrial facilities or hog farms next to homes, they would have to pay off the developers using our tax dollars."

-- Charleston School of Law Prof. Billy Want


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

Thumbs up

Sanford. Gov. Mark Sanford has requested, as allowed by the federal government, that South Carolina's roadless national forests be spared from new roads and commercial logging. Good for him. This state has only 2% of the state's national forests that are roadless, and that seems small enough to skip. Nearly 7,600 acres of 600,000 acres of national forests are roadless. The governor is right: Keep 'em natural.

Senators. Whether to agree with the senators , here are some who deserve plaudits for their efforts on the Senate floor and off on property tax reform bills and amendments: Chip Campsen, R-Charleston; Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau; Wes Hayes, R-York; Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; Jake Knotts, R-Lexington; and Jim Ritchie, R-Spartanburg. None of them won every round, but all voiced good ideas that showed responsiveness and ability. We'd bet Sen. Knotts will be surprised to find himself in this group.

Thumbs down

SCRG. Citizen involvement in politics is nothing to be denigrated, as with the South Carolinians for Responsible Government that is opposing a few incumbent representatives who did not vote for school choice legislation last year. However, when that group, or any other group, hides behind closed doors and refuses to give public access to its gifts, its donors and its overall doings, then it has no real right in the state's otherwise wide open political system. On Friday, the group had the audacity to say it would ignore state ethics laws, according to The Post and Courier.

Bust on cig tax. The House Ways and Means Committee has apparently killed an increase in the cigarette tax up to 42 cents in two years. And why? Well, it's a small group that would be affected, the committee was told, but the committee also heard that cigarette illnesses inflict $545 per household on state and federal dollars. The tax would have gone to health and prevention funds, which seem right, not wrong. Of course, the Senate could still, we think, use a cigarette tax to amend the House's budget, now on the other side of the Statehouse.

Marsh islands. A House committee has shafted major state protection against development on the state's environmentally sensitive 3,500 marsh islands. The House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee perhaps proved why it should be dissected, leaving natural resources and the environment to another group. After all, the committee decided against major protection without letting the full House vote, since the protection was contained in a DHEC regulation that the committee could alone decide upon.

Stirring the pot. It's not fully clear who is stirring the pot over the Criminal Justice Academy training program. But someone is, probably is an effort to gain political power. And the Ways and Means Committee has sent a bill to jerk the academy away from the Department of Public Safety, where it was restructured. The folks pushing the move ought to at least have the fortitude to cite chapter and verse on why it should move, or, honey, hush.

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In each issue of Statehouse Report, you'll get:

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Just a quick note to let you know how you missed out this week. If you were a subscriber to the paid edition of Statehouse Report, you would have received the information below on Friday AND you would have gotten other special features:

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  • JERRY AUSBAND: It's home that really counts
  • LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: Budget and taxes on floors
  • RADAR SCREEN: Trouble in the family
  • PALMETTO POLITICS: A look at the Democratic and GOP House primaries
  • TALLY SHEET: Newly-filed legislation
  • MEGAPHONE: On backroom secrets

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