Bringin’ it All Back Home

gov-sanford-parent-and-kids-at-q.JPGLately it’s been fun talking about all the wonderful progress being made for school choice in other states around the country. But what about South Carolina? Don’t Palmetto State parents deserve the right to choose the best schools for their children? With the new legislative session upon us, reformers have joined the battle to increase choice, improve schools, and stand up for children.

Savvy political observers think the South Carolina has a shot to take the lead in bring freedom and justice to parents and students who are being ignored and abused by our dysfunctional system. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a good account of what’s coming up for South Carolina. It’s behind a subscription wall right now but if you look below the jump, we’ll give you a sneak preview.

Meanwhile, South Carolina could be next. Legislation is now being drafted to allow nearly 200,000 poor students to opt out of failing public schools by giving them up to $4,500 a year to spend on private school tuition. Middle class parents would be eligible for a $1,000 tax credit.

Governor Mark Sanford, a Republican, also wants to create more choice within the public system by consolidating school districts so students who can’t afford to live in a certain zip code aren’t forced into the worst public schools — a system that now consigns thousands of African-American students to failing schools. In his State of the State Address last month, Mr. Sanford branded the current districts a “throwback to the era of segregation.” The comment drew hardly a flutter in the legislature, he told us, because “everyone knows it’s true.”

Despite a 137% increase in education spending over the past two decades and annual per pupil spending that exceeds $10,000, South Carolina schools trail the nation in performance. The state ranks 50th in SAT scores, only half of its students graduate from high school in four years and only 25% of eighth graders read at grade level. The Governor’s budget puts it this way: “The more we expose students to public education, the worse they do.”

In last year’s elections three legislators paid for their opposition to school choice with their seats. One freshman reformer is Representative Curtis Brantley, an African-American Democrat from rural Jasper County who defeated a white incumbent in a June primary. He told us he supports school choice because something must be done to shake up the status quo.

Those counting votes say this might be the year that choice legislation passes. Advocates are planning a rally at the state Capitol in Columbia on Tuesday, February 13. Mr. Brantley says he’s helping bus people in from his district, and Governor Sanford will address the event. The voucher movement has been declared dead many times, but as Utah and South Carolina show, its promise of better education is keeping hope alive.

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