From Thursday’s Orangeburg Times and Democrat:
Like an awkwardly timed pre-thanksgiving “Christmas sale,” it starts earlier every year.
A small army of handsomely paid public officials and lobbyists begin their slow and steady drumbeat of political rhetoric.
Taking up the unassailable banner of “our children,” they argue for ever-greater spending on public schools. From newspaper opinion pages to the back halls of the Statehouse, they use public money and offices to lobby for even more of the taxpayers’ money.
And each year it has worked. Total spending by local school districts has grown more than 60 percent from 2000 to 2006. This school year over $11,480 in combined local, state and federal money was spent for each and every child in South Carolina’s public schools.
But next year will be different. It has to be.
The state is already over $100 million behind its revenue projections for just this quarter. With a dramatic and worsening drop in government revenue, there is only one way that state and local lawmakers can sustain — not to mention increase — the enormous per-student spending of South Carolina’s public schools: school choice.
The math is simple.
The districts spend an average of $11,480 per child. A $2,500 state tax credit or scholarship for families transferring to private schools would mean a big cost savings to the state and a huge financial windfall to the districts.
Half of all state spending (and all the local and federal money) is allocated in block grants and large-scale programs. When individual children enter or exit the public school, the total dollars don’t fluctuate.
More parents exercising choice would lead to more money per child in the public schools even if state lawmakers froze total state spending at last year’s level.
On the other hand, without some form of school choice, lawmakers can expect to see a sharp and expensive increase in public school enrollment next year as parents with tight family budgets withdraw their children from private schools.
For years, parents in South Carolina have been clamoring for school choice. Low-income and minority parents want something like the HOPE scholarships that grant them access to better classrooms.
People of faith want recognition that sending their children to private schools saves taxpayers thousands of dollars per child. Parents of children with special needs want more of a voice in developing a student-specific educational plan for their children. Taxpayer watchdogs simply want competition to streamline a government school monopoly they characterize as wasteful and monolithic.
These arguments are all powerful and heartfelt but in the past certain lawmakers have put the lobbying of bureaucrats before the interests of their constituents.
This year the numbers speak for themselves. School choice will save South Carolina’s public schools millions of dollars, which is ultimately why state lawmakers will adopt it.
Randy Page is president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government.