The Anderson Independent-Mail posted an article detailing a speech by Jim Rex to the Oconee Alliance. In his speech, Rex bemoaned the possibility of more state budget cuts, and urged public schools to adopt a “culture of innovation” to help deal with decreasing resources.
“We’re all going to have to be more innovative; a lot of the solutions of the past just won’t work anymore,” Rex said. “We need a culture of innovation.”
In addition to calling for fiscal responsibility, Rex called the current zip code based system for school attendance an “antiquated notion,” a statement with which most families would eagerly agree.
In fact, Rex has repeatedly voiced his support for education funding reform, improving test scores, raising the graduation rate, closing the achievement gap, and considering the wishes of parents in regard to where their children attend school. Unfortunately, Rex has wasted several opportunities to fix these problems, and instead offered costly non-solutions.
Here are a few prominent examples:
– The PACT: Rex listened to the teachers and parents who hated the test, and acknowledged that it needed to go. Instead of adopting a low-cost standardized test, that would let parents could see how their children perform compared to students in other states, Rex chose to develop an equally non-normative, and expensive version of the PACT! In fact, the new PASS test offers an even more poorly defined grading scale than the PACT.
– Wasteful Spending: Rex is responsible for tripling the number of $100,000 a year employees at the State Department of Education. Many millions of dollars a year are wasted on plush accommodations for education bureaucrats, and fees for education “consultants.” Instead of cutting the moochers off, Rex puts pressure on working parents with ideas for a four-day school week.
– Parental Choice: In response to parents clamoring for control over where their child attends school, Rex has repeatedly claimed to be a supporter of “choice.” In actuality, his “open enrollment” plans offer fewer options than those already offered in No Child Left Behind. The tiny pool of high-achieving public school options makes Rex’s “public school choice” plans unbelievably helpless. Not one of Rex’s suggested plans offers parents true choice, free from bureaucratic control.
Rex’s track record is one of lip service to reform, and actions that pander to the wants of the education bureaucracy.
If reform were really Rex’s priority, he would jump to support far-reaching school choice.
Fifteen other states have school choice programs (tax credits, SGOs, scholarships) working to reduce many of the same problems that plague South Carolina public schools. Rex’s talk about not supporting choice for fear of making society “more unequal than it is now,” is based on his own political aspirations and allegiances, not in fact. A Friedman Foundation study of the Washington, DC “Opportunity Scholarship Program” showed that private schools involved in the choice program were far less segregated than local public schools. Rex should also consider Pennsylvania’s “Education Improvement Tax Credit Program,” which in 2007-08 awarded over 44,000 scholarships to help get needy students enrolled in high performing schools.
Rex may enjoy being styled a “reformer” and “innovator,” but his administration has yet to produce any results for public school students in South Carolina. Rex needs to start showing real leadership by joining with lawmakers to introduce a comprehensive school choice program that will help students start overcoming the very obstacles that Rex says he is dedicated to eliminating.
Will Jim Rex start doing what is best for students, or will he continue coddling an ineffective bureaucracy?