Jim Rex was elected in late 2006 on a promise to reinvent South Carolina public schools. His “together we can” mantra invited great optimism among teachers and parents, despite the fact that his election victory was the result of a plurality, not a majority.
Two years later Rex’s promises remain unfulfilled and conditions at our public schools have deteriorated.
Since 2006, the differences between black and white children’s test scores in math and English have worsened. Statewide, daily attendance at school and the number of on-time graduations have crept down. Average SAT scores have dropped for all student types and the gaps between scores of white and black students have grown. The white/black SAT participation rate has also widened. Scores for high school End-Of-Course exams have sunk in both math and science. Even the “best” public schools in South Carolina are in a slump: in 2006 the average SAT score in York District 4 was 107 behind scores at public schools in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 2008 the York 4 students had fallen 126 behind their North Carolina peers.
Deterioration is not limited to test scores. In Charleston, an award-winning principal has been accused of systematic cheating on the PACT test. In Spartanburg, a Superintendent has allocated two hundred thousands dollars in public funds to a private golf club of which he is a member. In Sumter, school officials are defending the spending millions of dollars on an administration building for a district that will soon be consolidated out of existence. Rex himself has engaged in illegal political activities and has tripled the the number of $100,000+ employees at the State Department of Education.
Having proven his inability to sustain –not to mention improve– quality and oversight in the public school system in South Carolina, Jim Rex has lost his claim to credibility as a reformer. Rex has not focused on his executive responsibilities at the State Department of Education, where he is tasked with implementation and oversight of policies designed by the legislature. Instead Jim Rex is lobbying lawmakers to raise property taxes and rewrite parts of the State Constitution. The questionable merits of these proposals not withstanding, Jim Rex ought to be focusing his time and resources on leading public schools out of their student performance slump, not politicking for changes in revenue policy.