The Fight for SC Children is Starting to Attract the Attention it Deserves

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Today The Post and Courier is running a story about a small independent school where education miracles occur every day. With its tuition under $4,000 annually, Capers Academy achieves impressive results for a population that is not wealthy or privileged but determined and ready to learn. The results—outlined in this Wall Street Journal story—speak for themselves:

One place Capers [Prep] isn’t skimping, however, is academics. The school places a heavy emphasis on reading, writing and math. As a result the school’s average SAT score, 1150, is 164 points above the state average, and this year the school expects every one of its graduates to go on to college. St. John’s High School, the public school these students would be attending if not for Capers, has an average SAT score of 788.

Education Superintendent Jim Rex, the only Democrat to win election statewide in South Carolina this past year, recently came out in favor of school choice, saying, “it’s time to take the plunge.” But his support comes with a caveat. He wants to limit choice to within the public school system, which would do precisely nothing to help Rontrell and his Capers classmates pay their tuition bills.

More excerpts from the WSJ story—as well as an explanation of the photo above—are after the jump.

The handsome young man in the picture just beneath the headline is one Rontrell Matthews, a student who was ready to do whatever it took to get out of a failing public school and find a place where he could live up to his potential.

At 16 years old, Rontrell Matthews has a better idea than most of his peers what an education is worth. This past summer, he made his way through this rural, poor community not far outside of Charleston to show up at the doorstep of Capers Preparatory Christian Academy. In his hand was his first paycheck, a meager sum of $32.86 that he’d earned making sandwiches at the local Subway shop. Spurring him along was a determination to buy his own way out of one of the state’s many failing public schools.

School choice is always controversial, and often opposed on the grounds that it will undermine public schools, subsidize middle-class parents and cherrypick the “best” kids for a private education. After meeting Rontrell in Capers’ cramped conference room on a recent afternoon, it’s hard to disagree that school choice in this state would help one of the best kids get a better education. Rontrell is now excelling in school, encouraging his younger brother to study hard. He has landed a partial scholarship and continues to work at Subway to pay part of his $400-a-month tuition bill. He’s a good kid.

Without school choice most Rontrells won’t make it out of their lousy public schools. That’s just the fact. So we’re left with a question. Do we abandon children like Rontrell to a future of failure? Or are we ready to fight for their right to have a chance to succeed?

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