In a recent opinion column, Superintendent Thomas White of Spartanburg District 7 made his position very clear: he is very smart and deserves to make choices about where his children attend school. You on the other hand, the parents and taxpayers of South Carolina, aren’t as bright and don’t deserve the same for your family.
Nevermind that White is a public servant, chosen by democratically elected officials.
Nevermind that White puts bread on his table through a government salary, financed by your hard earned tax-dollars.
And nevermind that as a public school administrator White’s job is merely to implement and orchestrate public policies, not to use his public position to advocate or author them.
No, White is still smug enough to waste ink on the pages of the Spartanburg Herald Journal belittling the grassroots advocacy of low- and middle-income families who want to enjoy the same privileges that wealthy families already have: equal access to a wide range of effective classrooms for their children.
Taking home $150,000 in salary (plus a $10,000 annual auto stipend and $8,000 in conference travel expenses) White can afford a wide range of options for his children and grandchildren. They can choose among traditional public schools, private schools, charter schools, magnet schools and homeschooling. That means these children can be perfectly matched with a teacher, classroom, curriculum and instructional style that fits their unique learning needs.
Not all parents in South Carolina enjoy this luxury.
Many low- and middle-income families find themselves frustrated with their local one-size-fits-all public school. Perhaps they object to the way the school teaches controversial social issues or feel their child is not receiving an appropriate amount of personalized attention. Maybe they are simply disappointed with the persistently low test scores that characterize most South Carolina public schools. Whatever their motivation may be, if these parents -who are clearly engaged in their student’s education- choose to withdraw their child from the local public school, then they will suffer the financial burden of both paying for public schools (through taxes) and paying for independent school tuition because of public school shortcomings.
Adding insult to injury, when parents make this choice, the public school (already receiving an average of $11,000 per student) actually saves money since most of its funding is not child-based.
But White doesn’t care. Lacking perspective, he stubbornly holds that public schools are the same as “public education.” He ignores the popularity and success of school choice in the form of HOPE, LIFE and Palmetto Fellows Scholarships. He argues that engaged parents who make responsible choices about their children’s futures deserve no support.
White is in no position to make these claims. In fact, based his own District’s performance, he is in no position to be chastising parents who advocate for choice.
Despite $15,980 in per student funding this year, White’s Spartanburg 7 public schools earned an average SAT score that was 166 points behind the best public schools in North Carolina and 57 points behind top public schools in Georgia. There are also three persistently failing schools in his district.
Superintendent Thomas White needs to focus his time and resources on improving the public schools in his district, not abusing his public position chastising less-wealthy parents who yearn to enjoy the same option his children and grandchildren take for granted.
Update: read more about White’s reckless spending in this Spartanburg Herald Journal article.