A guest editorial from the opinion page of November 29th’s State Newspaper:
I’ve been amazed at the increasingly divisive hyperbole from those opposed to private-school choice. The rhetoric is becoming predictable: Supporters of private school choice are driven by money from outside interest groups, they don’t care about poor children; the proposals are designed to help the rich save a few bucks, they’ve been rejected by South Carolinians.
The fact is that many of us have sincere and honorable reasons to support tax credits for private education. As the board chairman of a low-tuition private Christian school located near the Corridor of Shame, I’d like to offer my perspective.
While I was deployed to Afghanistan last year, my oldest daughter began attending the fifth grade at Orangeburg Christian Academy just outside Orangeburg. The teachers are selfless and dedicated individuals who make an average salary well below that of public school teachers, and none of the state benefits. The students are great kids from varied racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
The parents are primarily hard-working men and women who care deeply about their children’s education and character. Many families are willing to tighten belts in other areas to give their children a Christian education. The tuition runs about $3,000 a year, though this figure varies a bit based on the grade level. It can be compared to the $11,480 of combined tax money for students in public school.
Back to my daughter. When I was able to speak with my family from overseas, I discovered a new joy in my daughter’s voice due to her Christian school environment. In particular, she had made a new best friend —an intelligent and well-mannered girl from a hard-working African-American family. My daughter spoke about her all the time. I came back to America about the time the school year ended, but had the pleasure of meeting my daughter’s friend. She was a great companion to my daughter, and I looked forward to both of them continuing their friendship through the years.
During the summer, I was invited to become the chairman of the school’s board and happily accepted. In meeting all the wonderful teachers, parents and students, I felt passionate about volunteering to help in any way possible. I even decided to donate the profits of a book I wrote to low-tuition Christian schools.
When classes started back this fall, my daughter and I were crushed. It turned out that her new best friend could not return because her parents could no longer afford the tuition. I quickly discovered many parents in a similar situation, on the financial edge within the family budget to keep their children at our school. When the financial crisis hit, Principal Cynthia Poor told me about the hardship on parents. One father had broken down in tears because he could no longer afford to keep his children in private school. As a faithful believer, he desperately wanted his kids to receive a Christian education.
When some parents recommended a change to a four-day week to save money, our board quickly met about the issue. There were a number of pros and cons to the change, but for me the decisive factor was the families being able to afford school. We decided in favor of a four-day week, and Ms. Poor implemented that change. There was much work to make it reality. However , but we were willing to do anything to help these families.
Such struggles occur at low-tuition private schools throughout South Carolina. This is why I support tax credits. For those with the resources, a tax credit is likely not the factor preventing private education. However, for many working families, it can make the decisive difference. It’s a win-win situation: We spend $11,480 in local, state and federal taxes for each child in public schools. Doesn’t it make sense to offer a $2,000 tax credit if that will mean one less child to pay for in public school?
Some argue that those favoring tax credits don’t care about the children in South Carolina. That just isn’t true. With tax credits, we are all still responsible for South Carolina’s children. A smaller number of children in public school would not only be funded by their parents and other adults without children, they would also be funded by affluent parents of children in private school. The main difference is that working parents would have an easier time making the same choice as wealthy parents. Isn’t that fair to all?
Mr. Bill Connor is an attorney with Murphy-Grantland Law Firm in Columbia and chairman of the board of Orangeburg Christian Academy.