Watchdog for the Taxpayers chimes in on “Minimally Adequate”

In a recent post on his Watchdog for the Taxpayers blog, Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom rightly questions whether a constitutional amendment mandating a “high quality education” is the most necessary step toward reforming public education in South Carolina.

Hopefully more of our elected officials will follow General Eckstrom’s example and champion substantive measures of improving education in South Carolina.

Constitutional Amendment: A Trojan Horse?

by Richard Eckstrom

The solution for South Carolina’s low SAT test scores and its high dropout rates has been much debated. Now a well-meaning group of citizens are suggesting that our state constitution might be holding us back. That constitution mandates a “minimally adequate” education for all students.

There are those who believe that if we change our constitutional mandate for education, our education problems will be solved. Accordingly, an effort is underway to amend our constitution to replace its current mandate for “minimally adequate” to “high quality education, allowing each student to reach his highest potential.”

Who among us could oppose such a noble intent? Certainly, all of us want every student to reach his or her highest potential. And South Carolina for many years has backed up its commitment to its youth with educational spending that places us among the most generous states, particularly as a percentage of per capita income.

Our education leaders often remind us that South Carolina’s education standards are among the highest in the nation. Thus, one might wonder why the wording of a centuries old constitution should matter. If our constitution has not prevented us from establishing some of the highest standards in the nation, it certainly would not prevent us from meeting those same standards.

Those behind this effort to change our state constitution know that if they can change the wording of the constitution, they can circumvent our State Legislature and file suit, as they have done in 45 other states, to get our State Court System to mandate large increases in education spending. In effect, this approach would mandate large increases in taxes as well.

The educational establishment is right in setting high standards for student performance. But reasonable people would be justified in asking whether that establishment has made “minimally adequate” use of the generous resources already provided by the taxpayers of our state.

When we require that our education system focus our education tax dollars on teachers in the classrooms, instead of on large administrative bureaucracies, we then will truly begin to offer a high quality education where each student will be allowed to reach his or her highest potential.

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