Sunday, June 18, 2006
to be key election issue -- again
SC Statehouse Report
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
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
- 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
- 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
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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
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.
Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:
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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
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
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
-- Bob Henderson (a victim of the infamous 15% Cap on
Owner-occupied residences in Charleston back in 2001), North
6/13: Do your homework
To the editor:
What most people, apparently you included, don't know, is
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
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
-- 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.
Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various
political news items from the past week:
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.
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.
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
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'
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