Superintendent Rex wrong to defend spending

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From the opinion page of the Sun News:

Recently, members of both political parties took State Education Superintendent Jim Rex to task. Rex came to state lawmakers hoping to guide them in writing the K-12 education budget for 2009-10. The meeting did not go as smoothly as he planned.

Public schools in South Carolina began this past year with $11,480 per student. Of that, $4,800 came from the state, $1,100 from the federal government and $5,500 from local governments. Over the course of this year the state portion was cut by $480 per student. The $334 million reduction translates into a cut of just 4 percent of total spending.

South Carolinians want effective and efficient schooling for their children. Rex could have channeled this enthusiasm by arguing for policy reforms that expand parental choice and cut unnecessary bureaucracies. A state tax credit or scholarship model like the system used in South Carolina’s colleges and technical schools would be a good start. It would also save local districts hundreds of millions of dollars because local and federal appropriations would still reach the public schools untouched.

Sadly, Rex did not choose this route.

Instead, Rex found himself awkwardly arguing for a freeze and even cuts in classroom teacher and bus driver salaries. He made no mention of the tripling of Education Department employees earning more than $100,000 since he took office. Nor did he discuss how a mere 45 cents per allocated dollar reaches the classroom in the form of teacher salaries and instructional material. Rather, he actually defended the growing layers of state and local administrators and left those closest to the children to fend for themselves. Thankfully, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called him out for this hypocrisy.

Rex also used the limelight to push for a watering down of the accountability system. Failing schools would be called at-risk instead of unsatisfactory. He confusingly argued that districts need greater autonomy to make their own budget choices, but then lobbied hard for his own personal pet projects like a costly new computer system for administrators and more of the controversial track-based curriculum for high schools. Again, members of the House were right to be skeptical.

Public spending of $11,000 per child ought to be enough for a world-class K-12 education system. That’s almost twice the national average of $6,600 for private school tuition. Instead, it funds bureaucrats over bus drivers and training consultants over teachers. Jim Rex could use his bully pulpit to advocate for real change for students in South Carolina. It is a shame he has consistently failed to do that.

The writer, of Columbia, is president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, which advocates for publicly supported private school choice.

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3 responses to “Superintendent Rex wrong to defend spending

  1. Amen, quit paying Corporate CEO salaries to public servants and increase the budget for the ones that are molding our children’s minds. We do not need more politicians leaching off of the educational systems budget.
    When America asks for government downsizing we are not talking about the teachers.

  2. It’s pieces like this that make me totally lose faith in the political system. I’m glad they are somewhat holding his feet to the fire but it is way too little and possibly too late. I would write my congressman but he’s a public ed suckup and I know I’d just be wasting my time.

  3. Elizabeth Moffly

    As a member, of the Superintendents Transition Team on the Choice Committee , I recommended alternative routes to a High School Diploma. The one-size fits-all track- based curriculum for college prep is not working. Realignment of student’s ability, interests and future goals would better serve the best interest of all. SC Commission of Higher Ed recommends 19 credits for admission and secondary requires 24 credits for HS graduation. Then we make HS graduates repeat HS course work as General Ed in college. Repetition of services plus the cost of these services is expensive and self defeating for students, parents, and taxpayers. This is real reform that makes dollars and cents. Students who find school relevant towards future goals of increased choice to make decisions based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, will be less likely to display defiant behavior. The only problem with this idea is it would remove government jobs thus increasing educational unemployment. Is the best interest of children really the truth? The monopoly of governmental institutionalized education creates despotism over the mind. Innovative, creative, critical thinking is not allowed inside structured ed that manipulates and molds the minds of our children. Serve and Protect what? Democracy is the freedom to make personal choices and protect our Unalienable Rights.

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