James Smith is out of touch

James Smith.jpg
Some kids are more equal than others: Smith supports “strong public schools, which we all fund and participate in,” except for his own kids, who attend private school.

Representative James Smith’s (D- Richland) recent diatribe about the infallibility of failing public schools is still causing waves.

In his State Newspaper OpEd, Smith repeated several unpolished, and less-than-factual Department of Education sound bites, trying to justify the absurdly low 45 cents per dollar of instructional spending in SC public schools. He also skimmed over the stagnant SAT and ACT scores, as well as expanding income and race-based performance gaps and a worsening 158-per day statewide dropout problem.

Smith further showed himself totally unaware of the sad reality of school under-performance, when he suggested the “best” schools in South Carolina were nationally competitive. In fact, recent SAT scores show South Carolina “best” districts to be more than 120 points behind scores in North Carolina’s top schools.

More troublesome for Smith than misinformation and bad data is the fact that Smith’s move places him far outside the political mainstream. Smith may not realize that both presidential candidates have endorsed some form of school choice as a way to expand access to quality student-appropriate instruction.

On the left, Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama supports school choice in the form of tuition tax credits for college. From his website:

“Create the American Opportunity Tax Credit: Obama will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This universal and fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students. Obama will also ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by using prior year’s tax data to deliver the credit when tuition is due.”

On the right, John McCain, the Republican Nominee, also advocates for school choice, including K-12 education. From his convention acceptance speech:

“Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.”

If Obama sees choice as a way to expand access to college and McCain sees choice as a right for families, where does this leave James Smith’s stubborn defense of government dominated schooling?

It is hard to say. Smith defends the notion that the State itself has “children of its own.” From this seems to follow a belief that government always knows best.

But with his own children attending a prestigious private school in Columbia, it is hard to see why Smith does not want to extend access to other children who, in Barrack Obama’s words, were less wise in choosing their own parents.

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7 responses to “James Smith is out of touch

  1. what makes Heathwood so elite?

  2. Price:

    $14,635 for high school tuition
    $13,195 middle school
    $12,375 elementary

    And from their website:

    “With a competitive admission process, Heathwood accepts college-bound students of average to superior academic ability. Not surprisingly, the majority of Heathwood students traditionally score above state and national averages on standardized tests, including the SAT.”

  3. Silence Dogood

    I don’t think the fact that Rep. Smith does not support a voucher system or tax credit system for students who attend private schools is undercut by the fact that his children attend a private school. Effectively he is not asking me to pay for his children to attend private school while public one’s are available, and at the same time is not asking us to bankrupt public schools in order for that to happen.

    Bravo Rep. Smith.

  4. In his editorial, Smith specifically implores everyone in the state to embrace the imperative to personally fund and participate in public schools. He is not doing this if his own kids are in private schools.
    More to the point, denying low income and disadvantaged children access to the high level of instruction he affords his own children is simple hypocrisy.

  5. I believe the relevant point is that Smith insists that low income parents be stuck with the local public school as their only option while sending his own children to a private school. Effectively he is a dictatorial hypocrite in this matter. Choice for me, and none for thee.

  6. Rep. Smith is simply recognizing the reality that private schools are able to be selective about the students they receive, while our public schools are charged with educating every child, no matter his or her disability or lack thereof. Or course it costs more to administer and provide this kind of education. He is bravely standing against the notion that private schools should funnel money away from public schools. We thankfully live in a free country in which school choice already exists – and we are committed to educating all of our children. Is it a perfect system? No. But Smith is right that State funds should not be siphoned off from the public system. If parents want to be able to afford a private education for their children, they should not look to the State but to each other to do so by finding ways of privately working toward that end, as Smith has done with his own kids. And this is not even to mention the danger of putting State funds into private schools, and thereby turning them de facto into government controlled entities. Thanks James for your courage.

  7. Greg,

    You say “We thankfully live in a free country in which school choice already exists.”

    You are right: choice exists for upper middle class and wealthy families that can afford it. Families such as Smith’s.

    Too bad Smith is unwilling to extend a similar opportunity to those less privileged.

    School choice means real equality of opportunity for all children, not the bureaucratic mediocrity of government schools for those who can not afford to buy out of them and some school “choices” for those whose parents can pay out-of-pocket for them.

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