S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, June 18, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0618.educ.htm

Education to be key election issue -- again
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

JUNE 18, 2006 - - If you sit around a table with a bunch of business leaders and talk about public education in South Carolina, it's pretty clear pretty quickly they think more needs to be done.

They'll say it's not the problem of students, who show they can achieve if challenged. They'll discuss how it's not the problem of teachers, who show up for work motivated to help students despite relatively low pay. They'll even say it may not be the problem of administrators, who seem to be doing the best they can with what they've got.

They also highlight some great components the system has in place that seem to be moving it forward: tough, nationally-recognized teaching standards and a stringent assessment structure that is providing school leaders with the information they need to make schools and teaching better.

Just this week, Furman University had another series of small meetings with business leaders to learn about public education's strengths, weaknesses and possible solutions. It's part of an ongoing non-partisan project the school's Riley Institute is doing to get to the bottom about what South Carolinians really think about public education.

What we heard in the Institute's 88th meeting this week was the blanketing concerns that broad institutional challenges keep South Carolina's public education system mired at the bottom:

  • Low expectations. Business leaders said a lot of parents and taxpayers seemed to have relatively low expectations for the public school system - that they don't really expect it to perform because it hasn't done that good a job overall. Along the same lines, they say they feel there's no public passion for a top-notch public school system.

  • Low parental involvement. They're frustrated many South Carolina parents don't get integrally involved with their children's education, which illustrates to children that working hard to achieve in school isn't important.

  • Low commitment from politicians. Despite politicians who say they're fixing public education, people don't see a lot of changes. Instead they see folks pandering empty rhetoric.

  • No plan. If pressed, business leaders also will tell you they feel there's no overall plan for education - that every four or eight years, a governor changes and new ideas rise to the top. But while one or two new programs or tactics may be added, they don't believe there's a real long-term plan for education that addresses core concerns. And without a plan, there's not much to rouse anybody to create real zeal for making South Carolina's public education system better.


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With all of this being said, the recent primary elections show education again will rise to the top as a major campaign issue.

On one side will be Democrats who criticize Gov. Mark Sanford and his supporters for abandoning public education with school voucher plans that would erode public and financial support from the system. On the other side will be proponents for radical change who say the current system is failing and something major, such as vouchers, needs to happen to make things work.

While the campaign season surely will be hot and heavy on education, it's worrisome business leaders, parents, voters and educators may see these political outcries as simply the same old politicking.

Yes, something needs to change in public education. At the Riley Institute meeting, business leaders seemed to agree the best thing could be for someone in a state leadership position to really grab the bull by the horns and develop a long-term consensus and strategy for getting South Carolina public education out of the cellar. What's been done so far to improve things has been encouraging, but the changes seem to have been at the edges, not the core.

Bottom line: We may not need a new idea, such as school vouchers, to meddle with the system. What we seem to need is a real plan. And yes (gasp), it may cost more money to fix the system that's been plagued by a funding hangover for decades.

But one thing is for sure: When the Riley Institute issues its final report on the results of all of these meetings with education stakeholders, legislators and those in education leadership ought to stop, look and listen.

Andy Brack's new book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

Recent commentary

lighter side
6/18: Surprised

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

The best way to get South Carolina news is to augment your morning paper and TV show with SC Clips, a daily executive news summary compiled from more than 30 state newspaper and TV sources. It's delivered every business day and is packed with news of statewide impact, politics, business and more. Subscriptions are affordable at $30 per month -- and less for business subscribers. More: SC Clips.

6/14: Wealthy control the debate

To the editor:

I read with much interest your piece (Commentary, 6/11) in the Island Packet recently about the impact of the property tax reform bill on the average SC taxpayer. I fully agree with the findings of the report by Ellen Saltzman and wondered if a copy of that report is available.. Again, thanks for shining some light on this cynical hoodwinking of citizens who do not live in expensive houses in exotic locations.

The information in this report was certainly predictable if you know Economics 101, but somehow this message has not gotten through to tax payers. Once more the affluent and the wealthy control the debate....

-- Municipal employee, name withheld upon request.

Note: You can download the report, which is a series of Excel spreadsheets, by clicking here.

6/13: On target

To the editor:

An excellent and candid report (Commentary, 6/11). Can you tell me if the figures considers the impact of the 15% Cap reassessment limit for all real property? If not then pricey owner-occupied, second Homes, rental property and commercial property owners will see an even greater Tax decrease.

-- Bob Henderson (a victim of the infamous 15% Cap on Owner-occupied residences in Charleston back in 2001), North Charleston, SC

6/13: Do your homework

To the editor:

What most people, apparently you included, don't know, is that $100,000
figure has shrinked considerable since 1995. On my last tax bill, the relief
had dropped to the first $60,000. If you do a little more research, I think
you will find that others have seen the same thing. The tax cut has been
shrinking every year, and would continue to do so, but now it won't. This is
a better tax cut for the "little guy" than your analysis shows. You haven't
done good homework.

-- Ralph Bristol, Greenville, SC

Note: In a series of emails with Mr. Bristol, we noted we did our homework. That's why we talked with expert economists at Clemson and the state. You can download the source report by clicking here.

6/12: Neanderthal thinking

To the editor:

Pleeeeeze, don't get me started re property taxes and SC school support - Neanderthal thinking - if you wanna big house/lotsa property/PAY for it!! Thanks for writing this editorial - always enjoy your editorials - I so often feel our legislators have no brains let alone common sense - I have almost given up!

-- Natalie Mann, Bluffton, SC

6/12: Right on property tax reform

To the editor:

I find myself totally agreeing on your property tax assessment. I worked all my life and when I reached 65 and got my homestead exemption I said well now is time to get a little back. You are right when you say the little guy is going to pay more and to me it seems like that is the way it always is regardless of what Party is in control. As a young person I was a Democrat but like Zell Miller they left me and forced me out. I have no use any longer for the Democrat Party and the Republicans are forcing me away from them.

-- James A. Fleming, Bennettsville, S.C.

Recent feedback


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

Thumbs up

Bucher. Hats off to State Librarian Patti Bucher, who spoke up in The New York Times in a piece about Gov. Mark Sanford's troubled win in the Republican primary and his veto of the entire state budget: "Nobody can remember this ever happening." Put it down in the footnotes, we suppose.

Knotts, Cooper. Two Republicans, Sen. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia, and Rep. Dan Cooper, R-Piedmont, both laid it on Sanford for his budget veto so hard you'd have thought Birchers had turned to Democrats. Knotts wanted to sustain the budget veto and let Sanford handle the mess that ensued, and Cooper, chair of the Ways and Means Committee that drew the initial budget, accused the governor of using a "phony spending figure" in his veto.

In the middle

Sanford. The state budget veto by Gov. Sanford was nonsensical, but the budget itself failed the state when it failed to pump many more millions of dollars into early childhood education, nowadays called 4-K for kindergartens for 4-year-olds all day, five days a week. The $23.6 million is a start, to be sure, but in this year of plenty of money, more should have been put into the court-ordered program. Next year, no one should stand still for putting enough funds to make 4-K education not just minimally adequate, as the judge called it, but a model for the nation.

Thumbs down

Right to stink. Any legislator who voted this year to take from counties the right to restrict chicken farms and to leave all that in the hands of the Department of Health and Environmental Control ought to be plucked. The bill was called the "right to farm" bill, and it turns out that after the Legislature approved the anti-county bill, DHEC convened with a problem on a new 540-tons-of-manure Orangeburg County chicken operation. DHEC approved the farm because, DHEC noted, it cannot control the malodorous fumes from those farms. The bill, it seems, was more like the "right to stink" bill.

Licenses. All those in officialdom who have the ability and power to do so, but don't seem to recognize the facts, have sat still through this nugget of information just before the primaries: About 5 percent of this state's drivers, or more than 156,000, have suspended or revoked licenses, and many of them are still driving. Why, one might ask, hasn't the state done at least as much for taking these ne'er-do-wells off the highways as they have for cutting the lines at drivers' license shops.

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