Last week, zealously anti-parental choice editors at the State Newspaper mis-characterized the comments of Shonda Simpkins in process of condemning School Choice.
Upset by the use of her name, and frustrated with editors who seem to not understand the basic mechanism of the legislation, Simpkins penned a reply:
An Editorial Column in the State Newspaper (5/11)
By SHONDA L. SIMPKINS
Warren Bolton’s speculation about how educational tax credits might impact low-income students in South Carolina (“Tax credit plan ignores poor families’ economic realities,” May 3) ignores the basic reality that such programs have empowered tens of thousands of low-income parents in other states. For the first time, parents have made real educational choices for their children. This type of parental engagement, and the profoundly raised expectations it invites, has benefited all children in those communities.
Mr. Bolton envisions a family with two children earning less than $28,000 in a year. This is exactly the type of family that sends their children to the ShadeTree Academy for Girls, a small single-gender independent school I established in Edgefield. He worries that such parents lack the cash-on-hand to pay for $4,800 in tuition in the fall, while waiting for a tax credit to arrive months later. He also points out that low-income families rarely have the state tax liability to benefit from such a credit. Then he summarily dismisses student scholarship organizations — the part of the bill actually geared toward helping such families — as “fantasy.”
In fact, individual and corporate donations to non-profit scholarship-granting organizations are a great way for businesses and philanthropists to make targeted investments in K-12 education. And that is exactly what they have done in other states, by awarding tuition scholarships at the start of each semester. Last school year, more than 20,000 low-income students in Florida received scholarships to attend 937 different private schools through this type of program. In Pennsylvania, where the caps on donations and credits are higher, it was more than 44,000 students. Not only have donors eagerly given money to save low-income children from failing public schools, they have also saved taxpayers money in the process.
Government auditors in Florida have found that taxpayers saved $1.49 in state education funding for every dollar “loss” in corporate income tax revenue due to credits for scholarship contributions. In South Carolina, there will be thousands of dollars more in savings for the local school districts. Locally raised revenue — roughly $5,000 per child — will stay in the public district when children transfer out, leaving more money per public-school student.
Our small school constantly struggles to provide parents with real value for the modest tuition we charge, and we work to show our private investors and donors that we are efficiently serving the local community. That makes us accountable and forces us to be effective. Contrast that with those public schools that persistently rank as unsatisfactory or at-risk. Administrators there need not worry about demonstrating value on investment or instructional efficiency. Local, state and federal funding actually rises when scores of the students trapped there fall further.
Finally, Mr. Bolton compares the long-term failure of public schools in South Carolina to a house on fire, arguing that we ought to extinguish the flames rather than pull a select few from the inferno. A nice analogy, but an inaccurate one.
Offering parents the tools to choose where their children attend school provides for both the “rescue” of individual children and the larger reform of the system. Parental engagement and decision-making incites public schools to respond and improve in a way that decades of internally designed and driven reforms have not. Despite the Educational Improvement Act (1984), the Educational Finance Act (1998) and the Education and Economic Development Act (2005), low-income and minority children in South Carolina remain dramatically underserved by public schools.
Yes, educational tax credits will partially support middle- and upper-income families who send their children to private schools (and who save taxpayers and public schools money in the process). However, private-school choice can offer the greatest benefit to the least advantaged members of our society — low-income and minority children — which is exactly why those committed to effective public education ought to support it.
Ms. Simpkins is president of ShadeTree Academy for Girls in Edgefield.