The Year for School Choice


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.


10 responses to “The Year for School Choice

  1. Patty's Regular

    This is powerful. All the hate speak about “attacking public schools” while school choice actually would give them more money?! With just ten cent per dollar in spending on choice kids this is a no brainer.

  2. I like your angle on this and feel you need to bring it up a notch.

    School choice will yield savings in the state budget. Not only for one year, but many.

    Soon, the legislature will realize they are dealing with a deficit beyond this year. The deficits may extend out a year or two. Legislaturs will be looking for multi-year savings. Thus, anything that gives them savings year to year to year, will be appealing.

    Your plan does that. I suggest pressing that point.

  3. With all of the news of school budget, I really wish someone would publish the amount of educaional money that school districts spend on high dollar attorneys.

    What would be the impact of reducing this fee other than freeing up educational funds?

  4. Betsy Bootstrap

    We need another RALLY on the Statehouse steps! How about those 60,000 private school students, thousands of homeschool students combined with the under-served African American and Hispanic students who year after year score lower and lower – get them together AGAIN and demand true school choice! It is TIME! I agree with the previous comment of emphasizing what it would COST the state to educate the 60,000 private school students at $11,000 each. Has anybody thought of what it would do to SC Public Education if even HALF these students were forced by the economy to return to public schools? I, for one, think $2,500 is not nearly enough of a tax credit. Charter schools get half – ANY parent who makes a choice OTHER than public brick & mortar should get HALF as a tuition tax credit for alleviating the pressure on the state.
    PLUS, it is time to break the indoctrination stranglehold of public socialization masquerading as “public education”.

  5. Bootstrap Bill

    I have already had to consider pulling out of private school because the cost of a private education keeps going up. (and so do my taxes)

    But, it is not about me, it is about my kids and I want the very best for them. My best choice is a private school.

  6. It is unfortunate that so many newspapers such as the Greenville News will not tell the truth about how much less it costs to educate a child in a private school nor how many millions the state would save by giving parents $2500 or more to move their child from public to private school. Some newspapers seem beholden to the state miseducation department and Jim Rex who has hired more people for the state office.

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